Psalm 110 Reconsidered

Peter Lee
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington D.C.

The subject of this article focuses upon the well-known Psalm 110. That this particular poem caught the attention of numerous writers of the New Testament is evident by the generally well recognized fact that it is the most commonly quoted or alluded to psalm within the NT. Of particular interest for these writers was their fascination with David. They referred to his future, royal descendant using the epithet‎ אֲדֺנִי “my lord” (v. 1) instead of the more expected title of בֵּן “son”—a designation that was commonly used in reference to Judean kings in the line of David. “Son” also best describes the relationship of David with any future progeny of his; in a general sense, they all would be his “sons.” The claim of the NT writers in their understanding of Psalm 110, in particular the opening line “The LORD said to my lord,”[1] is as follows: David’s reference to a future descendant of his as my “lord” (as opposed to “son”) suggests that David saw him as his superior because this future offspring would not be a mere human figure, but rather an embodiment of the divine Yahweh himself (cf. Mark 12:25-27; Acts 2:34-35).

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that this notion that Psalm 110 alludes to a human manifestation of the divine Lord is not an invention of the NT writers, nor is it a forced reading of the text of Psalm 110. Rather, this reading follows a flow of thought that can be discerned internally within Psalm 110 itself as well as within its surrounding poetic context, specifically Psalms 111, 112, and 113. This interpretation of the Davidic king of Psalm 110 also resolves a significant point of dispute in psalms study, namely, the assertion that the figure of David is alive and well in the psalter, particularly in Book V, even after the disastrous depictions of rejection in Psalm 89. In other words, the book of Psalms does not portray the Lord as abandoning His covenantal promise of an eternal kingdom to the sons of David by replacing them as a divine monarch of Israel in post-exilic Israel. Instead, Psalm 110 confirms that the Lord is true to His promise to David by portraying the coming of an ideal and victorious Davidic king. Although it seems highly unlikely that the OT readers would have concluded that the “lord” of David is an embodiment of the divine Yahweh, given the internal-exegetical and external-canonical evidence it was not unreasonable for the NT writers to make the conclusions that they did.

The prophetic nature of this psalm is seen in the opening line, particularly the use of the technical term נְאֻם. It is clear that not only Psalm 110, but also the entire book of Psalms was received by the NT community as prophecy that is fulfilled in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. After establishing the prophetic nature of Psalm 110 (and the book of Psalms as a whole), I continue by examining the exegetical evidence within Psalm 110 and propose that there is a subtlety to the text that suggests a tight correlation between the Lord Yahweh and the “lord” of David. I then examine the relationship of Psalm 110 to the psalms that follow it. These two prominent figures (Yahweh and the “lord” of David) are given their own individual poetic focus in the subsequent psalms, namely Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 respectively. Whereas Psalm 111 is a hymnic praise of the Lord Yahweh, Psalm 112 is a praise of the human king, specifically David’s “lord.” The near-identical descriptions used of the Lord Yahweh in Psalm 111 and the human king of Psalm 112 give the impression of literary union between the “lord” of David and the divine Yahweh. A similar type of close association between the two can be seen in Psalm 113.

Before a robust analysis can be undertaken, an examination of the structure and content of Psalm 110 must be understood in order to appreciate the internal correlation between Yahweh and the “lord” of David. Although the intent of this article is very specific—to support the divine identity of אֲדֺנִי in verse 1 made by the NT authors—brief and general comments are helpful before digging into the particulars. This is also necessary in order to see the canonical relationship between the psalm and its surrounding context. Thus we begin by making a few preliminary remarks on the psalm.

I. Comments on Psalm 110

The psalm is composed of two units (strophes). 1) Verses 1-3 describe the divine Yahweh’s empowerment of a human, royal descendant of David in his military battles, and 2) verses 5-7 describe his ongoing military success at a universal level. I take verse 4 as a rare isolated poetic line that provides a clarification on the nature of the battle imagery found throughout the psalm (see below). I analyze the poetry as follows:

A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord:[2]
1 Sit at my right hand /
Until I make your enemies /
your footstool;[3] //
2 Your mighty scepter[4] /
The LORD sends forth from Zion; /
Rule in the midst of your enemies //
3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power /
in holy garments;[5] from the womb of the morning /
the dew of your youth will be yours //
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind /
You are a priest forever /
after the order of Melchizedek //
5 The Lord is at your right hand /
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath //
6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses /
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth //
7 He will drink from the brook by the way /
Therefore he will lift up his head //


This is a “psalm of David.” I follow the traditional view of the lamed as marking authorship, thus a psalm authored by David. However, the particle נְאֻם occurs in this heading, which is commonly used to introduce words of prophecy (see below). This has led many to believe that the writer of the psalm is a prophetic figure, someone other than David, and thus the “lord” referred to in verse 1 is presumably David himself. The NT writers interpret this differently, seeing David as the author, although in part this may be due to the fact that they were following the standard Jewish opinion that the Psalms as a literary work were entirely composed by David.

In further support of Davidic authorship, it is helpful to observe that the particle נְאֻם also occurs in 2 Samuel 23:1, which is the “last words of David.” The occurrence of that prophetic particle in that context supports the possibility that it was indeed David who wrote this psalm and did so anticipating a future, ideal king in his line.

Given that David authored this psalm, of particular interest to the NT writers is the phrase that I consider as part of the heading of the psalm,‎ נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי “an oracle of Yahweh to my lord.” Many commentators see this prophetic statement analogous to the oath that the Lord takes in verse 4 concerning the priestly identity of the future messianic king. Each divine speech is seen as introducing the large poetic units of verses 1-3 and 4-7.

This interpretation is possible, but the syntactic similarities between this opening verse and other headings within the psalter suggest instead that this is just a heading. This opening line is not a complete sentence. It is merely a statement that seems to introduce the entire psalm as prophetic. A dangling clause like this is consistent with the syntax that is found in other headings throughout the psalms. The similarities between these two halves (as will be demonstrated below) suggests the entirety of the psalm is the prophetic word uttered in the divine throne-room (vv. 1-3), which will be fulfilled on earth (vv. 5-7).

Verse 1

This is a tricolon where the first colon is a divine command by Yahweh. This corresponds with the imperative in verse 2, “rule in the midst of your enemies,” which creates a grammatical inclusio that binds verses 1-2:

Sit at my right hand /
Until I make your enemies /
your footstool; //
Your mighty scepter /
The LORD sends forth from Zion /
Rule in the midst of your enemies //

The phrase “right hand” is most likely metaphorical for a place of prestige and honor. As the Lord is the true king of Israel (Ex 15:18; Ps 93:1; 95:3; 97:1; 99:1), this future descendant of David is given the authority to rule at his side, thus he sits on “the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel” (1 Chr 28:5; cf. 29:23; 2 Chr 9:8). While this earthly king is protected in the security of the throne of the Lord, it is the Lord Himself who will vanquish his enemies and suppress them for David’s future “lord.” However, it appears that the location of the Davidic king does not stay within these safe confines in verse 2.

Verse 2

This verse continues the oracular word. However, whereas in verse 1 Yahweh spoke in the first person (“I will make your enemies a footstool”), in verse 2 he speaks in the third person (“the LORD sends forth from Zion”). Not only is there a change in voice, but there is also a change in the location of the earthly king. Where verse 1 finds the king at the “right hand” of Yahweh, in verse 2 he is presumably sent “from Zion” and ruling “in the midst of your enemies.”

The reference to the king’s “mighty scepter” (‎מַטֵּה־עֻזְּךָ) alludes to his reign, as the Hebrew word can refer to the rule of a king (cf. Jer 48:17 where the identical phrase מַטֵּה־עֺז also occurs). John Goldingay suggests that this may be a metonymy for the king himself.[6] This is possible. Having been seated at the right-hand of the Lord and thus establishing his authority, he is now sent out to engage in battle with divine blessing and sustenance. It is also possible that this is a figurative reference to a royal army who fights the wars of the king. This view is consistent with the images that follow in verse 3. It would be hard to imagine, however, a depiction of a royal army without their king leading them into battle.

In either case, this metaphor has the king curiously no longer at the divine right-hand (as in v. 1), but rather in the “midst of your enemies.” This suggests that the Lord will establish the dominion of this human king so that he may vanquish his enemies, and this will be done by divinely empowering his military prowess. Notice that verse 1 says the Lord will conquer the Davidic foes while verse 2 says the earthly king will do the same. The connection between the Lord and the “lord” of David is extremely strong. This common motif is further developed within this psalm.

Verse 3

Verse 3 poses the most difficulties of the entire psalm, both text critically and interpretatively. The numerous textual issues in this verse are reflected in the textual apparatus of BHS as well as in the majority of commentaries. Even if one favors any of these variant readings, the primary interest of this article remains unaffected.

I take this poetic line as a tricolon. In the A-colon, the people of the king themselves volunteer their military allegiance in his service on “the day of his power,” referring to his military campaigns. The text says they are a “free-will offering,” meaning they will sacrifice their very lives out of loyalty to his cause (cf. Judg 5:2).

The B-colon is difficult. I take the phrase “holy garments” (ESV) better as “holy splendor” (cf. NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV) which describes the glorious military success of the people.[7] The adjective “holy” anticipates the priestly image that is found in verse 4 (see below for further details). The phrase “from the womb of the dawn” I take as a metaphorical reference to the very beginning of “the day of your power.” From the very moment that the king begins his military campaigns, these people serve him with undying commitment and obedience to his desires without question.

I also suggest that the phrase‎ עַמְּךָ נְדָבֹת in the A-colon should be read as gapped in the B-colon. Thus the line reads literally, “Your people will be a free-will offering on the day of your power / in holy splendor (your people will be a free-will offering) from the womb of the morning / the dew of your youth will be yours //.” Whereas the A-colon mentions when the people will offer themselves freely (“on the day of your power”), so the B-colon describes the extent of their service: it will be from the very moment he begins his war (“from the womb of the morning”), presumably until it is completed, that results in glorious victory (“in holy splendor”). The gapping of the phrase “Your people will be a free-will offering” allows for the presence of the phrase “from the womb of the morning,” which could not be included otherwise for poetic reasons.[8]

The C-colon ends this line by describing the type of people who constitute this royal army, meaning they will be “your youth.” The young men of Israel are the people who will dedicate the strength and power of their youth for the cause of the king. The imagery of the “dew” may allude to the imagery of the “dawn” from the B-colon, which is the time of day when dew can be found. The phrase “dew of your youth” appears to be a reversal of images from the B-colon’s “womb of the dawn,” where the “youth” parallels “womb” and “dew” parallels “dawn.” The poetic development in verse 3, therefore, is as follows: the A-colon states who will fight for the king, their loyalty, and when this battle will take place (“in the day of your power”); the B-colon provides their success and the immediacy of their war-like acts; the C-colon describes the youthful strength and exuberance of those who will fight for the Davidic king.

Verse 4

While I do not see that the “oracle” of verse 1 must parallel the “oath” of verse 4 (marking the beginnings of the two halves of Psalm 110), the fact that there is a divine oath in verse 4 is significant. This is similar to the self-maledictory oath that the Lord takes upon himself in Genesis 15 in the covenant with Abraham. In that arrangement, the Lord also made a divine promise that he confirmed with an oath. The Lord also “swore an oath to David his servant” in Psalm 89:4 (cf. v. 36. 50; Ps 132:11) where he promised eternal kingship in his family line. He does the same here.

The oath differs in that it is the priestly nature of the royal seed of David that is promised. The sons of David could not be priests in the order of Aaron, so their priesthood comes by way of a divine oath in a different order. This suggests that there was a latent priestly element to the Davidic kings (cf. 2 Sam 8:18) that becomes more explicit as the history of redemption progresses.

This divine oath assures the human king that he will be a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” The mere mention of Melchizedek alludes back to Genesis 14:18 and his royal office that also possesses a priestly component. This priest-king union is similar to Israel’s covenantal identity as a “kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6. It is rare to see these two offices explicitly converge within one person. The priestly role of Israel is significant in light of the divine mandate to purge their homeland of Canaan of all unholiness. Their role as a priestly-nation (“holy nation” in Ex 19:6) is analogous to the priesthood in their service to the tabernacle and, later, to the temple. As the priests are to protect the sanctity of the dwelling of God (for example, the tabernacle and temple), so Israel as a “kingdom of priests” must do the same at the level of the typological land-dwelling of God (Canaan). The conquest of the land in the book of Joshua is less military and more an act of a cultic people who consecrate the land-dwelling of God from anything/anyone that offends his holy character. The military imagery that permeates Psalm 110, therefore, is not surprising given that this “lord” of David is also a “priest.” Verse 4 is not part of either half of the psalm but rather provides the cultic nature of the king’s military campaign.

One cannot ignore the connection of Melchizedek to the city of Jerusalem, which naturally would also associate Psalm 110 with the establishment of an Israelite presence in that city. The biblical data on the settlement of the city of Jerusalem is complex. It was divinely given as an inheritance to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh 18:28), which they failed to conquer (Judg 1:21). However, it is near Judean territory (Josh 15:8). Judah, like Benjamin, also failed to take the city, according to Joshua 15:63, but not according to Judges 1:8-9. Why Judah is called upon to attack a Benjaminite city is not clear. Yet, 2 Samuel 5:5-9 also states that David rid Jerusalem of any Canaanite presence, which adds even further uncertainty to what happened to the city in the Judges era.

Regardless of the obscurity concerning the inter-tribal interests in this city and the historical setting of its settlement, its importance is clear enough. Not only is it centrally located in Canaan, which allows no preference to either northern or southern interests, it is the urban city of a priestly ruler (perhaps the only such city in Canaan). This allows further development of the union of these two anointed offices into one single individual. The original Sitz-im-leben of the psalm may have been to celebrate the ultimate conquering of the city and the enthronement of the Davidic ruler upon its throne as the new capital of Israel. Canonically it establishes and heightens the anticipation that the “lord” of David will also be a “priest.” This priest-king image becomes increasingly explicit as the post-exilic era begins (cf. Jer 33:15-22; Zech 6:9-15). This is also a major theme in the development of OT messianism and the background of the messianic identity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Verses 5-6

The king was seated at the right-hand of the Lord in verse 1, but here it is the Lord who is seated at the right-hand of the king. More will be said regarding the position of the Lord below. Verses 5-6 describe the defeat of “kings,” “nations,” and “chiefs.” The promise of victory given in verses 1-3 is accomplished in verses 5-6 and his victory over earthly rulers occurs “over the wide earth.” Just as we saw in verses 1-2, there is another connection between the Lord and the Davidic king where similar descriptions and images are applied to both. Where verse 2 says the “lord” of David will conquer his enemies and rule within their midst through the use of an undyingly faithful army (verse 3), verses 5-6 say it is the Lord who will defeat these enemies. As the psalm continues, we are given the sense that the two figures are brought into a closer identity with each other.

Verse 7

The victorious king (or the Lord?) can now satisfy his thirst after a well fought war and thus lift his head triumphantly.

II. The Prophetic Nature of the OT Psalms

Having made some preliminary comments concerning Psalm 110, we now move on to examine the prophetic nature of the psalm as well as the entire psalter as a whole. Given that the NT texts refer to Psalm 110 as prophecy that was fulfilled in Christ and that my goal is to demonstrate a continuity between Psalm 110 and its NT usage, this seems an important hermeneutical principle to establish.

As mentioned above, the psalm opens with the use of the particle נְאֻם. The fact that this word has strong prophetic connotations has been well recognized by its countless occurrences within the prophetic literature in reference to divine revelation. This invites readers to understand Psalm 110 less as song and more as prophecy that will be fulfilled in the divine plan of God in the history of redemption.

When regarding the psalms as a whole, we must focus our thoughts on the most significant individual associated with them, namely David. His prophetic function has been largely overshadowed by his more obvious and prominent royal function. However, his role as a prophet does have strong support within OT texts. For example, consider 2 Samuel 23:1–7, which records the last words of David. This poem identifies him for what he was well known as, namely the “anointed of the God of Israel” (king) and “the sweet singer of Israel” (psalmist). Nevertheless, these final words are said to be נְאֻם דָּוִד בֶּן־יִשַׁי וּנְאֻם הַגֶּבֶר הֻקַם עָל “an oracle of David the son of Jesse, an oracle of the man who was established on high.” As in Psalm 110, so also in 2 Samuel 23 the prophetic particle נְאֻם occurs (twice in this passage). These final words of David, therefore, are to be understood as prophetic utterances.

David’s prophetic function has further support in Nehemiah 12:24, 36 and 2 Chronicles 8:14, where David is called “man of God.” This title is commonly used for those who hold the office of prophet (Josh 14:6; Judg 13:6, 8; 1 Sam 2:27; 9:6; 1 Kg 12:22; 13:1, 4-31; 17:18; 20:18; 2 Kg 4:7; 2 Chr 25:7; Ps 90:1). In the context of these passages, the title “man of God” seems to refer to David (re)establishing the priestly cult of the temple service. This is analogous to Moses who functioned similarly in the original cultic worship of the tabernacle. Moses also is called a “man of God” (Deut 33:1), thus the prophetic designation in these post-exilic texts may allude to David as a second Moses. Moses, however, is also the great prophet of Israel (Deut 18:15-22; cf. Num 12:6-8; Deut 34:8-12) and it is easy to see a prophetic overtone to this title as applied to David, especially since it has a strong prophetic connection throughout the OT.

This prophetic function of David (and thus the Davidic psalms at the very least) is also the view of the ancient community of Jews in Qumran. The great psalm scroll discovered in Qumran has a line that states as follows: “All these he [David] spoke through prophecy which was given to him by the Most-High God” (11QPsa 27.11).[9] The Qumran community must have also been impressed by these OT texts that highlighted David’s prophetic role and thus identified his most well-known literary work (the book of Psalms) as prophetic.

The OT precedence of David as prophet is also the background to several NT passages that further support the messianic-prophetic hermeneutic of the psalms. Consider the passage from Acts 2:30 in which the Apostle Peter cites Psalm 16 and states in reference to David, “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ.” For Peter, David was a prophet who wrote in eager anticipation of the events in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, something that Peter witnessed firsthand.

Acts 1:16 is also helpful for illuminating the prophetic function of David: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Notice that the text specifies that the betrayal of Judas was anticipated by David. This was in fulfillment of Scripture. In fact, this passage states the prophetic function of David very vividly by saying the “Holy Spirit spoke” through him.

The connection between the Spirit and the OT prophets is significant since they were the divinely appointed emissaries of the Lord and were thus required to be “inspired” by the Spirit in order to speak His authoritative word. One of three prerequisites required in the formation of an Israelite prophet was to be empowered by the Spirit of God—the other two being a divine call (Isa 6:1-13) and entrance into the heavenly council (Jer 23:18).[10] Various verbs are used to communicate this Spirit-empowerment: נפל “fell” in Ezekiel 11:5; נשׂא “lifted” in Ezekiel 3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1; 43:5; נוח “rested” in Numbers 11:25; בוא “entered into” in Ezekiel 2:2; 3:24; צלח “rushed upon” in 1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6; cf. 1 Samuel 16:13 David; לבשׁ “clothed” in 1 Chronicles 12:18-19; 2 Chronicles 24:20; cf. Judges 6:34. This relationship between the Spirit and the prophet led the prophet Hosea to be known as a “man of the Spirit” (Hos 9:7). In fact, for the Lord to speak “by the Spirit” is to speak “through the prophets” (Neh 9:30; Zech 9:7; 2 Pet 1:21).

According to Acts 1:16, David was inspired by the Holy Spirit like the OT prophets. For that reason, the passage specifies that the Spirit spoke “by the mouth of David.” The is unmistakably an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18, where the Lord says He will place His divine words into the “mouth” of Moses and the subsequent prophetic office-bearers, is unmistakable; see also Numbers 12:8 where the Lord speaks with Moses “mouth to mouth”; cf. Exodus 4:12, 15; Deuteronomy 8:3; Jeremiah 1:9; 2 Chronicles 36:12. All this demonstrates that David served a prophetic function that was not only reminiscent of the ancient prophets, but also specifically the paradigm-prophet Moses.

Another relevant (and more well-known) passage concerning the prophetic nature of the Psalms (and thus David) is from the gospel of Luke 24:44, where Jesus on the day of His glorious resurrection said to His disciples, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The point here is clear—Jesus understands the Psalter to be speaking prophetically about Himself. The majority of translations, however, mistranslate this passage by including a definite article before “psalms” when in fact there is none in the original Greek text.[11]

Luke 24:44 should be understood then as follows: “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms must be fulfilled.” Thus the strong impression that Luke 24:44 gives the reader is that the book of Psalms is to be understood as either prophetic in nature or possibly even an extension of “the prophets.” Luke 24 is also helpful in establishing another hermeneutical principle. The psalms are not only prophetic, they are messianic. Another way of stating this is to say that the psalms are prophetic because they are messianic.

III. Internal Evidence

We established above why it is reasonable to interpret Psalm 110 (and the entirety of the OT psalter) prophetically. In addition to the particle נְאֻם in verse 1, which we established as commonly used in the OT as introducing divine revelation in both prophetic literature and in David, the prophetic-messianic nature of the psalm can also be discerned by comparing similarities between the two halves, verses 1-3 and 5-7. It is important to observe these similarities as it demonstrates that the NT writers were heading in the proper prophetic direction in seeing a union between Yahweh and this royal Davidic figure. We move on to examine these internal-exegetical evidences regarding the identity of the “lord” of David.

Within the superscript of verse 1—‎נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי “an oracle of Yahweh to my lord”—the psalmist makes a distinction between the divine Yahweh and a future descendant of David, who is referred to by the royal epithet “lord.” The following verses, specifically verses 2-3, go on to describe the “lord” of David by referring to his place of prestige and authority—that is, he is seated at the right hand of Yahweh in verse 1; he is successful as a champion in his military campaigns in verse 2; and the people of Israel volunteer their services as a freewill offering to this royal monarch, nullifying the need to issue conscriptions (v. 3).

After introducing the royal descendant also as a high priest in the ancient order of Melchizedek (v. 4), the second half of the psalm begins. However, unlike the first half, the primary subject in the second half is a bit elusive. Verses 5-7 recapitulate the same motif as found earlier in verses 1-3, that being the military success of the priest-lord of David. Therefore, it would be understandable to identify the same human-descendant of David from verses 1-3 as the primary subject in verses 5-7. In essence, Yahweh promised success to this “lord” of David (vv. 1-3), so the “lord” of David succeeds and prospers (vv. 5-7).

However, the subject of verse 5 (and thus the center of attention in the second half of the psalm) is referred to as אֲדֺנָי, in which the final vowel in the MT is qāmeṣ. This specific vocalization of the title אֲדֺנָי (that is, אדון with final qāmeṣ) is consistent with references to the Divine Adon, that being the LORD Yahweh Himself and not to a human king; see Genesis 18:3, 27, 31; 20:4; Exodus 4:10, 13; 5:22; 34:9; Numbers 14:17; Joshua 7:8; Judges 6:15; 1 Kings 3:10, 15; 22:6; 2 Kings 19:23; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 1:11; 4:8; Job 28:28. There are over fifty occurrences of this divine use of the title אדון in the psalter. It is frequently found in apposition to the divine name (יְהוָה) throughout the OT; see Genesis 15:2, 8; Deuteronomy 3:24; 9:26; Joshua 7:7; Judges 6:22, 16:28; 1 Kings 2:26; 8:53; Psalm 30:9; Isaiah 30:15; 50:4; 52:4; 61:1; 65:13, 15; Jeremiah 1:6; 4:10; 7:20; 32:17, 25; 50:31; Lamentations 1:14; 2:1; numerous occurrences in the book of Ezekiel. It also occurs frequently in 2 Samuel 7 (vv. 18, 19, 20, 22, 28, 29). It is tempting to think that the use of the epithet אדון in Psalm 110 was triggered by its common use in this quintessential passage on the eternal promise made to David that one of his sons would always be on the throne of Israel (2 Sam 7:16).

The use of the title אדון in verse 5 invites confusion. If Yahweh is envisioned as the agent of the activities in verses 5-7, then it raises the question why the psalmist uses the equivocal epithet אדון —the same title that is used in reference to the human-descendant of David in verse 1. Why not continue using the Divine Name Yahweh (יְהוָה), which he does comfortably in verses 1, 2, and 5? Alternatively, he could have used the term בֵּן “son” in verse 1 when speaking of the royal descendant of David, which would have been appropriate, even expected, in light of the language in 2 Samuel 7:14 (“I will be to him a father, and he will be to me a son”) and Psalm 2:7 (“You are my son”).

Adding further ambiguity is the fact that the human “lord” of verses 1-3 shares similar characteristics with the divine “Lord” in verses 5-7. There are five areas of shared traits. First, both figures are described as successful in their military conquests. In fact, the military success of the royal “lord” of David in verses 1-3 is accomplished due to the divine blessing of Yahweh. Second, there is an anthropomorphism in verse 7. Due to the “divine” vocalization of the epithet אדון in verse 5, the majority of commentators presume that the subject of verses 5-6 is the divine Yahweh. However, they also say that the subject in verse 7 abruptly shifts to the human king.[12] The reason for this is due to the obvious description of drinking from “the brook by the way” and his lifting “up his head”—activities that best fit those of an earthly, human king. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the focus of the psalmist has shifted from the human “lord” to the divine “Lord.” In light of this, John Goldingay comments concerning verse 7, “the language might seem much more appropriate to a human king than a divine King….yet there is no indication that the subject has changed, so the line likely continues to refer to the divine King, the divine warrior; pictured in light of the way the human king acted.”[13] Third, the reference to the “right-hand” side occurs for both. Whereas the “lord” of David is seated at the “right hand” of Yahweh in verses 1-3, it is the Divine Adon who is at the “right hand” in verses 5-7. Fourth, the day of victory for the “lord” of David is called “the day of your [the king’s] power” (v. 3), which corresponds in the second half of the psalm with the “day of his [the Lord’s] wrath” (v. 5). Fifth is the ambiguous use of the title אדון mentioned earlier.

The combination of the five factors above makes identifying the primary subject of the actions in verses 5-7 difficult since both Yahweh and the royal scion of David are described in nearly the same manner. (1) Both are victorious in their military conquests in verses 1-3. (2) The Davidic figure is obviously an “anthropos” while the Lord seems to be described in anthropomorphic terms (v. 7). (3) Both are seated at the right-hand side. (4) The “day of your [the king’s] power” is a clear parallel to “the day of his [the Lord’s] wrath.” (5) Both are referred to by the title אדון. Verses 1-3 is the divine word that promises military success to David’s “lord.” He will “make your enemies your footstool” (verse 1); he “will send forth from Zion your mighty scepter”; therefore, “your people will offer themselves freely” (verse 3). Verses 5-7 describe the realization of those promises. Yahweh instructs David’s lord to “sit at my right hand” (v. 1), therefore, he is “at your right hand” (v. 5). He promised victory over his enemies (v. 1b, 2), therefore, “kings” and “chiefs” will be “shattered” (v. 5, 6). According to Derek Kidner, the movement from verses 1-3 to 4-7 is a scene-change “from throne to battlefield.”[14] However, who is receiving these blessings? In other words, who is at the center of this psalm? Who is Psalm 110 really about? Commentators do not agree.

As mentioned above, John Goldingay believes it is the divine King who is the subject throughout the entire psalm. Derek Kidner also views it similarly.[15] Contrary to Goldingay are the comments of Charles Briggs. He attempts to solve this lack of clarity by emending the MT vocalization of אֲדֺנָי (with a final qāmeṣ) in verse 5 to אֲדֺנִי (with a final ḥîreq, the same as verse 1) and says “this makes the [human] king the subject of all following verbs and removes all difficulties.”[16] Scholars have been guilty of emending the MT so that the text can fit within their preconceived notions of the text or concepts of poetry. That appears to be what Briggs is doing here. Granting his suggested emendation only solves the last of the five parallels between the Lord and the human king, as enumerated above. We are still left with the sense of a unity between these two figures.

It is doubtful that the readers of this psalm would have imagined what Christian theologians understand as the incarnation—God manifest in the flesh. It seems more likely that the close association between the human descendant of David and the divine Yahweh was the way in which the idealism of the future, earthly king was articulated. By the time of the collapse of both the northern and southern kingdoms, it was clear that the kings of the past brought about their sociopolitical demise. The promise of a coming son of David, however, was good and there arose an anticipation that an ideal Davidic son would come to restore them to their homeland.

It is possible that in the mind of the ancient poet the future Davidic monarch would not only be representative of Yahweh, but he would also be representational of Yahweh. David Mitchell makes a similar comment when he states that “there seems to be a conflation of Yahweh and the king… stress their oneness of will and purpose.”[17] Consequently, Psalm 110 is an exaltation of a future “lord” of David whose idealism is expressed by utilizing divine attributes. This explains why the descriptions of the two are similar, nearly identical.

IV. External (Canonical) Evidence

Having established that the internal-exegetical evidence within Psalm 110 anticipates a Yahweh-like messiah (“lord”) of David, we now move on to consider the external-canonical evidence that supports the rise of the same figure.

Ever since the publication of Gerald H. Wilson’s doctoral dissertation, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter[18] in 1985, the discussion on the canonical location of any given psalm (or psalm collection) within the OT psalter has dominated the field in psalms research.[19] Whereas the previous generation of psalms scholarship focused upon the literary genre (Gattung) and usage (Sitz-im-leben) of individual psalms within the religious life of ancient Israel, current discussion is more interested in the editorial arrangement of the 150 psalms and the final form of the psalter. According to Wilson, the book of Psalms should not be read as a randomly ordered collection of individual Israelite poems. Rather, the canonical location of each psalm was intentionally and strategically positioned in the post-exilic era by editors who also linked neighboring psalms by using various literary and poetic devices available to them. While this remains a nascent area of study, some of the preliminary findings have yielded encouraging results.[20] Regarding the manner in which these psalms are interlinked together, the work of David Howard is most impressive.[21] He says there are three ways in which adjacent psalms are joined together: 1) key-word links; 2) thematic connections; and 3) structure/genre similarities.

When these three methods are applied to the psalms in Book V, a case can be made for the literary integrity of Psalms 110-113 as a unit. The result of this canonical analysis shows that the similarities seen between the Lord Yahweh and the “lord” of David internally within Psalm 110 also occur at the external-canonical level.

Regarding key-word links: There are three examples of word-links that bind Psalms 110-113. First, there is a noticeable and significant distribution of the key words חסד and עולם. Michael Snearly makes a compelling case that Book V can be divided into smaller poetic groups: Psalms 107-118, 119 as a unit of its own, 120-137, and 138-145. One of the arguments that he uses to group Psalms 107-118 is the consistent occurrence of the words חסד and עולם. Within these psalms, however, the word עולם is concentrated within Psalms 110-113.[22] To illustrate this distribution, Snearly provides the following chart:[23]

107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114/115 116 117 118
חסד חסד חסד חסד חסד חסד חסד
עולם עולם עולם עולם עולם עולם עולם עולם

The absence of חסד in Psalms 110-113 is glaring, especially when compared to its consistent occurrence in the rest of the psalms within this collection. On the other hand, עולם has a strong, unifying presence.[24] From a key-word analysis, this suggests that Psalms 110-113 can also be seen as a subgroup within the larger collection of Psalms 107-118.

A second example of key-word links is seen specifically between Psalms 111 and 112. Outside of the word עולם, there are limited key-word links that bind Psalms 110-113. There are other thematic descriptions that add to their poetic unity (see below). There are, however, numerous word-links between Psalms 111 and 112 that strengthen an obvious correlation between these two poems. The descriptions of the figures within each psalm share a striking and profound parallelism, where images of the divine Yahweh of Psalm 111 are remarkably applied to the wise man of Psalm 112, who presumably is to be identified with the “lord” of David from Psalm 110.[25] This is not surprising since we saw the same method applied earlier within Psalm 110 itself. Consider the following:

Psalm 111

Hymn of Yahweh

Psalm 112

Wise King

1 “Great are the works of the LORD;

Studied by all who delight in them” (v. 2)

“How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments” (v. 1)
2 His righteousness endures forever” (v. 3b) His righteousness endures forever” (v. 3b)
3 “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered” (v. 4a) “The righteous will be remembered forever” (v. 6)
4 “the LORD is gracious and merciful

(v. 4b)

“he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (v. 4)
5 “He provides [gives] food for those who fear him” (v. 5) “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor” (v. 9)
6 “The works of his hands are faithful and just” (v. 7) “[He] conducts his affairs with justice” (v. 5)
  1. Psalm 111:2 says גְּדֹלִים מַעֲשֵׂי יְהוָה דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם “Great are the works of the LORD; studied by all who delight in them.” Much of the same vocabulary is found in the opening of Psalm 112:1, אַשְׁרֵי־אִישׁ יָרֵא אֶת־יְהוָה בְּמִצְוֹתָיו חָפֵץ מְאֹד “How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.”
  2. Psalm 111:3b states הוֹד־וְהָדָר פָּעֳלוֹ וְצִדְקָתוֹ עֹמֶדֶת לָעַד “Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.” Psalm 112:3b ends with the same exact phrase הוֹן־וָעֹשֶׁר בְּבֵיתוֹ וְצִדְקָתוֹ עֹמֶדֶת לָעַד “Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever,” where the third person masculine possessive pronouns refer to the God-fearing and obedient man of verse 1. Given that it is Yahweh who is described in Psalm 111, the poet of Psalm 111 may have meant this literally. However, it clearly has a figurative sense in Psalm 112.
  3. Psalm 111:4 says זֵכֶר עָשָׂה לְנִפְלְאֹתָיו “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered.” Psalm 112:6 says לְזֵכֶר עוֹלָם יִהְיֶה צַדִּיק “The righteous will be remembered forever.” The Hebrew word זֵכֶר occurs in both psalms. In Psalm 111, the “wondrous works” refer to the redemptive accomplishments of Yahweh as seen in the history of Israel. So verse 5 alludes to Yahweh’s provisions for Israel during their wilderness journeys, verse 6 to the conquest of the land of Canaan through the ministry of Joshua, and verses 7-8 to the instituting of the covenant at Sinai. According to Psalm 112:6, it is the “righteous” who will be remembered. This may refer to the Israelite community as those redeemed by Yahweh, or more likely the royal man who is the subject of the psalm. Where Psalm 111 focuses upon the redemptive activities of God as a memorial, so Psalm 112 focuses upon the redeemed people/king as a memorial.
  4. In Psalm 111:4, the LORD is described as חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם “gracious and compassionate.” In Psalm 112:4, the “lord” of David is also described as חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם “gracious and compassionate.” Psalm 112 also adds צַדִּיק “righteous.”
  5. Psalm 111:5 describes Yahweh as providing material needs, טֶרֶף נָתַן לִירֵאָיו “He provides food for those who fear him.” Psalm 112:9 describes the “lord” of David fulfilling a similar task, פִּזַּר נָתַן לָאֶבְיוֹנִים “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor.” The verb נָתַן “give” occurs in both psalms. Where in Psalm 111:5 it is translated above as “provides,” in Psalm 112:9 it is analyzed as the second half of a quasi-verbal-hendiadys with פִּזַּר, thus meaning “distributed [literally, give] freely.”
  6. Psalm 111:7 says the work of the Lord’s hand is “faithfulness and justice” אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפָּט while Psalm 112:5 says the “lord” of David will sustain his affairs בְּמִשְׁפָּט “in/with justice.”

As mentioned earlier, the method of “paralleling” the Lord Yahweh with David’s “lord” within Psalm 110 is mimicked at the canonical level. In the same way that Yahweh and the “lord” of David share similar features within Psalm 110, so Yahweh of Psalm 111 and the wise/royal man of Psalm 112 also share similar traits.

A third example of key-word links is seen in the heading “Praise the Lord,” which is found in the opening of Psalms 111–113. The use of that phrase is highly concentrated in the beginning of Psalm 113. Many consider Psalm 113 to be part of the following subgroup, the so-called “Egyptian Hallel” psalms of 113–118, where the phrase “Praise the Lord” regularly recurs, although not consistently as a heading as in Psalms 111-113.[26] It is possible that Psalm 113 serves as a literary transition from one group to the next, analogous to the way in which the book of Deuteronomy transitions from the Pentateuch to both the Former and Latter Prophets respectively.

The ways in which the individual psalms within the psalter are interconnected to each other is a point of current debate. Some reject that there is a shape to the psalter because the means by which scholars explain these interlinks between the psalms differs from psalm to psalm. Such skeptics say that if one begins their study by presuming that there is an order to the psalms, then they will perceive a correspondence, even if one does not truly exist. Thus the entire question of the shape of the psalter appears gratuitous and becomes more a reflection of the creative imaginations of the scholar than a true objective literary phenomenon. In support of this critique, Roland Murphy states, “one can associate freely between one psalm and another in the context of a book. The associations hardly justify a solid context from which to draw conclusions.”[27]

This criticism is not without warrant. After all, if indeed one is fluctuating between various means and criteria in order to connect one psalm to another, one must ask if there is a true connection there at all. Perhaps another way of stating this is to ask, “does an interconnection between a group of psalms require that only one criteria be used?” Consider, for example, the phenomenon of parallelism, which is generally considered the most outstanding feature that marks a literary work as poetic. Scholars of Hebrew poetry have been critical of any theory on parallelism that sees it as one dimensional (i.e. semantic parallelism only). Newer approaches to Hebrew parallelism have properly recognized that there are also grammatical, syntactic, and even phonological means by which two/three cola can be conjoined together.

If indeed parallelism uses various philological and literary devices to create a poetic unity between two independent units, then by analogy could not the same thing happen at the level of entire poems? In other words, both parallelism and psalmodic shaping are multi-dimensional phenomena.[28] Some of these literary methods available to the ancient editors can be seen in the ways in which Psalms 110–113 are interwoven together.[29]

Regarding thematic connections: There is an obvious correlation between the Lord of Psalm 110 with the Lord of Psalm 111, thus both psalms describe the same divine being. There is not as strong and obvious connection between the royal “lord” of David of Psalm 110 with the human figure of Psalm 112. Although the royal identity of the man of Psalm 112 is not explicitly stated, allusions within the psalm do support such a conclusion. Psalm 112 opens with blessing placed upon “the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments” (v. 1). Both themes of the fear of the Lord and obedience to the law are characteristics that have strong allusions with Israelite kings. The theme of “the fear of the Lord” has resonances with wisdom traditions, specifically with the book of Proverbs, and Proverbs has direct correlations with a well-known “lord” of David, namely King Solomon (1 Kgs 4). Obedience to the law of God is the outstanding characteristic of the ideal Deuteronomic king as Deuteronomy 17:18-19 stresses so clearly: “he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law; and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.” The image of a “dawning light” found in Psalm 112:4 is similar to the description of David and the royal kings who will follow him according to 2 Samuel 23:4, “he [David] dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning.” The man of Psalm 112 is triumphant over his enemies (v. 10) and even trains his offspring to be the same (v. 2); these images of warfare are consistent with the royal-military images found throughout Psalm 110. The man of Psalm 112 is considered wealthy, which is another trait of kings. Psalm 112:9 refers to “his horn” (a royal image) being exalted in honor; cf. 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 89:17, 24; 132: 17.

The similar thematic motifs between the two human figures of Psalm 110 and 112 are significant and suggest that the man of Psalm 112 is to be identified with the “lord” of David of Psalm 110. The near vicinity of Psalm 112 to 110 adds further contextual support that they are indeed the same figure.

Regarding structure/genre similarities: We saw above how the Lord and the human king within Psalm 110 are described using the same images, so much so that we are left with the impression that there is a very strong correlation, possibly even union, between the two. We also saw that the same kind of correlation/union occurs in the two following psalms, 111 and 112. Just as the Lord Yahweh and the “lord” of David correspond to each other in Psalm 110, so also do the Lord Yahweh in Psalm 111 and the human figure in Psalm 112. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the canonical/editorial location of Psalms 111 and 112 was not influenced by the internal mirroring that occurs in Psalm 110.[30]

Whereas the two figures are portrayed in a near-literary union in Psalm 110, the two are separated and each given a separate, poetic homily in the subsequent psalms. However, the close association between them continues and this is manifest in the organizational structures that the two psalms have in common. In other words, the bipartite structure of Psalm 110 is mirrored in the bipartite organization of Psalms 111-112. Consider the following. (1) Both Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 are composed of ten poetic lines each, where the last line is a tricolon. (2) Each final tricolon diverges abruptly from the psalm’s main theme. The hymn of Psalm 111 ends on the theme of wisdom, which was not present anywhere else in the psalm. The wisdom instruction of Psalm 112 ends with a description of the wicked, who are not mentioned previously. (3) Both psalms are acrostically structured, where the first consonant in each half-line follows the successive order of the Hebrew alphabet. (4) There is a linkage of the two poems, in that Psalm 111 ends with the same motif that Psalm 112 begins, namely the wisdom theme of the “fear of the Lord” and a praise unto the Lord. So the final line in Psalm 111, verse 10, states “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” and “His praise endures forever!” The opening line of Psalm 112, verse 1, opens with “Praise the LORD!” and “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD!” Given that the final line of Psalm 111 obviously does not fit the content of the rest of the psalm, it is tempting to conclude that this line was not part of the original composition of the psalm, but added by the compiler(s)/editor(s) of the psalter to create a literary bond between the two.

Whereas the two figures of Yahweh and the “lord” of David are conjoined within Psalm 110 then separated with each having their own poetic focus in Psalms 111 and 112, they are brought back into a literary union once again in Psalm 113. The close association between the divine Yahweh and the human royal descendant of David in Psalm 110 is also mirrored in Psalm 113. Psalm 110 has a bipartite structure, where verses 1–3 place emphasis on the “lord” of David as the victorious military warrior and verses 5–7 on the divine Yahweh. Psalm 113 reflects a similar bipartite division, but in reverse order—it starts with the Lord Yahweh and subtly transitions to the human king. The immediate subject of Psalm 113, a hymnic praise, is stated in verse 1, “Praise the LORD.” Thus, it is the divine Lord Yahweh, who receives praise from the psalmist. In fact, the first half of this hymn (vv. 1-4) stresses the divine center of the poem in epic exaltation, which climaxes with Yahweh enthroned among His angelic council in divine glory.

1 “Praise the LORD! Praise /
O servants of the LORD /
praise the name of the LORD! //
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD /
from this time forth and forevermore //
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting /
the name of the LORD is to be praised! //
4 The LORD is high above all nations /
and his glory above the heavens! //

The second half of the psalm (vv. 7-9) transitions the reader from the majesty of the eternal throne-room to the vision of the work that the divine Lord does upon the earth.

7 He raises the poor from the dust /
And lifts the needy from the ash heap //
8 to make them sit with princes /
With the princes of his people //
9 He gives the barren woman a home /
Making her the joyous mother of children //
Praise the LORD!

He is described as the one who provides for the needs of the poor and needy (v. 7). He raises them to be seated with royalty (v. 8). He provides shelter for expecting mothers, thus caring for their social/material needs (v. 9). We must ask, however, how the divine Yahweh provides these earthly needs for the people. Simply put, he does so through the means of his divinely anointed representative, the earthly king—who is implicitly present within the second half of the psalm as the instrument through whom Yahweh governs his created realm, although that earthly king is not explicitly mentioned.

In fact, when one considers the actions described in both Psalm 110 and the latter half of Psalm 113, they capture two significant tasks that are required of the kings of Israel, namely serving as the lord protector of the realm (Ps. 110:1-3, 5–6) and tending to the provisions for the weak and needy (Ps. 113:7–9). Recall that this theme of providing for those in need was also found in Psalm 112:5, 9.

A third attribute can be added to the guardianship and care-provider motifs mentioned above, further demonstrating that the divine Lord of Psalm 110 is closely associated with the royal figure of Psalm 113:7-9. At the very center of this canonical cluster of Psalms 110-113 are two verses, Psalm 111:10 and Psalm 112:1. We saw above that these verses focus upon the wisdom motif of fearing the Lord that leads to having a “good understanding” (Ps. 111:10) and delighting in His “commandments” (Ps. 112:1). As a result, the portrait of the “lord” of David within this canonical collection describes him as an ideal king with Yahweh-like qualities who also conforms perfectly to Deuteronomic standards. He is a victorious warrior who graciously provides for the material needs of his people. He is also one who copies, studies, and meditates on the law of the Lord so that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren but rather so that he might provide for their earthly needs—see Deuteronomy 17:18:20.

As in Psalm 110, there is a poetic line at the core of Psalm 113 which does not seems to fit in either half. The two-part structure of Psalm 113 pivots at the hinge point of verses 5-6, which ask, “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” This passage takes the reader from the wonders of the divine heavenly council of verses 1–4 to the activities of Yahweh upon the earth through his appointed royal servant in verses 7–9. This question is not uncommon; it is asked in other places within the OT canon; cf. Exodus 15:11; Job 36:22; Psalm 35:10; 71:19; 89:6; Micah 7:18. The question is restated as a propositional statement in Deuteronomy 33:26; 1 Kings 8:23=2 Chronicles 6:14; Jeremiah 10:7, 16. It is a major theme within the psalter also (cf. Ps. 77).

This is a rhetorical question implying an obvious answer, “there is none like the Lord.” However, is this really true? According to Psalm 110 and 113 and according to the canonical ordering of Psalm 110 in relation to Psalms 111 and 112, there is one person who is like the divine Yahweh. It is the “lord” of David of Psalm 110, who is the ideal, wise/royal man of Psalm 112. The following diagram summarizes the correlation between these two figures and the literary movement within Psalm 110 and its canonical counterparts.


V. Interpretative Implications

The interpretative conclusions made above lead to two implications. The first concerns a proper understanding of the Davidic covenant and the promised messiah within the psalter itself. Gerald Wilson suggested that Books I-III retrace the demise and collapse of the Davidic monarchs and thus the termination of the Davidic covenant. In that regard, Psalm 89, the final psalm of Book III (Psalms 73-89), is a poetic lament that mourns the failure of the house of David and appears to nullify the Davidic promise in favor of a divine monarch. According to Wilson, Books IV-V point to the future life for Israel without a Davidic monarch, where Yahweh himself is their king since the “Davidic covenant introduced in Ps. 2 had come to nothing.”[31]

This is a rather odd conclusion to reach in light of the strong and powerful portraits of the “lord” of David in Psalm 110-113. There is also a large collection of Davidic psalms (‎לְדָוִד) within Book V (Psalms 138-145).[32] The impression, therefore, in Book V, especially due to psalms like Psalm 110, is not the end and failure of the Davidic promise, but rather the renewal of the Davidic promise. In response to Wilson, David Mitchell comments,

Yahweh does indeed appear to be king in Book IV, as Wilson suggests, but it seems that, by Book V, David is unmistakably back on the throne. Psalms 110, 132, and 144 depict a Davidic king. Moreover, if the house of David has come to nothing at the end of Book III, why do these later Davidic psalms represent him not conquered, but conquering?…He wakens the dawn with praise, and receives a divine oracle promising success in battle (108). He curses his enemy (109). He will rule from Zion, crushing the head of the wide earth and filling it with corpses (110)…The old Davidic and Zion theology is reasserted in the strongest terms (122; 125; 128:5-6; 132:11-18). David is rescued from the sword and sings a new song (144:9-10). The David of Books IV and V may not be doing as badly as Wilson suggests.[33]

Michael Snearly approaches the issue similarly when he summarizes the message of Psalms 107-118 as, “David is back! Psalms 107-118 appear, then, to be a response to Psalm 89. They complement Book IV’s dominant theme—Yahweh’s kingship—by bearing witness to the re-emergence of Yahweh’s vice-regent. Yahweh has not jettisoned his covenant with David because his covenant loyalty is eternal.”[34]

It is true that the exile was in part caused by the earthly sons of David; the key purpose of the book of Kings is to demonstrate this. Indeed, the portrait of David in Samuel is that of a weak and depraved leader. After his ascension to the throne of Israel, David succumbs to fleshly lusts that led to the violation of Bathsheba, the premeditative murder of his faithful military captain Uriah, and the rebellion of his own son Absalom (2 Sam 11-19). In fact, more of the book of Samuel is spent describing this dark time of his life than any of his greatest accomplishments. By the end of the Deuteronomistic History, Israel is in a state of despair. They have been exiled from their homeland and are without any godly leadership. However, the promise that the Lord made to David—that a descendant of his would always be on the throne—was good (2 Sam 7:14), and He would be faithful and true to that promise. It would take a son of David to bring about the Lord’s kingdom, an ideal son of David, a “lord” of David, a Yahweh-like son of David. That is the message of Psalm 110 and its surrounding psalms. The book of Psalms does not portray life without a Davidic monarchy; it eschatologizes the Davidic monarch.

The second implication of this interpretation of Psalm 110 has a direct impact upon its usage in the NT. Recall that the main goal of this article was to show that the interpretative conclusion made by the NT authors regarding the supernatural identity of the future descendant of David was not based upon an inappropriate use of Psalm 110, nor was it a vain attempt to forcibly see Jesus of Nazareth as the telos of this psalm (and by effect Psalms 111-113 also) in a way that was unwarranted or violated the integrity of the psalm itself. They were not forcing a Christological “square peg” into an ancient-poetic “round hole.” As demonstrated above, there is evidence within Psalm 110—both internally within the psalm and externally within its canonical context—to suggest that there is something significant going on when the psalmist refers to the future Davidic king as “lord.”

What is this significant thing? According to the synoptic gospels in Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, and Luke 20:42-43, the expected term for David to use when speaking of his future kin was “son” because he would in fact be a son/descendant of David. However, he calls him “lord,” which suggests this future son is David’s superior. The ancient readers of Psalm 110-113 perhaps noticed the representational motif of the messianic son of David, which would explain the reason why the psalm portrays Yahweh and the “lord” of David in identification with each other. However, the NT writers take this representational idea a step further by identifying the “lord” of David as the divine Yahweh.

The Apostle Peter does the same in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. According to Peter in Acts 2:34-35, the resurrection of Jesus was an eschatological declaration that the person of Jesus of Nazareth was not only the messianic son of David but also the embodiment of Yahweh Himself. This is what made the execution of Jesus so heinous. To support his claim, Peter cites Psalm 110:1, “The Lord [Yahweh] said to my lord [Messiah, that is Christ].” There is a distinction between the two. However, in Acts 2:36 Peter interprets this by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord [“Yahweh”] and Christ [“my lord”], this Jesus whom you crucified.” The inter-connection (or “parallelism”) that was demonstrated above between the two figures of Psalm 110:1 suggests that there is a close association between them—so much so that the identity of the subject of the two halves of Psalm 110 does not have to be between either the divine Yahweh or the “lord” of David, but rather both the divine Yahweh and the “lord” of David. In other words, the “lord” of Psalm 110:1-3 (אֲדֺנִי) is the “LORD” of Psalm 110:5-7 (אֲדֺנָי). This is further supported by its canonical surroundings.

Thus within this single person of Jesus of Nazareth is an axis point where the divine king and his anointed royal servant no longer remain separate figures. However, there is a vertical convergence where the two are brought into union together.[35] The portrait, therefore, of the human king alluded to in Psalms 110-113 is not merely the portrait of a godly man, nor is it merely the portrait of a god-like man (representational motif). According to the NT, the truest meaning of the psalm is the portrait of the God-Man. Or, to put it in the language of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:36, the Lord’s Christ (distinction) is Christ the Lord (union).

This convergence of the two figures of Psalm 110 was not mere wishful thinking on the part of the NT writers. Their hermeneutical conclusion was similar to an ancient conclusion. Although the true nature of the “lord” of David may have remained a mystery to the OT readers (cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12), it was not to the writers of the NT. In fact, one could say that they were following the canonical momentum of Psalm 110 and took the next, logical step—one perhaps that could only have been made in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). I submit this article as a proposal to support such a case.

  1. Translations of Scripture are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.
  2. In this article, the slash / is used to represent mid-pauses that separate cola. A double slash // is used to represent the end of a poetic line.
  3. Literally, “as a footstool for your feet.”
  4. The ESV translates, “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter,” where “your mighty scepter” is the direct object of the verb “send.” For the sake of the poetic stichometry, the object “your mighty scepter” is placed before the verb and thus the A-colon of a tricolon. This also reflects the word order in the MT.
  5. By use of the semicolon, the ESV appears to join the phrase “in holy garments” with the previous poetic line, and “from the womb of the morning” as the opening part of the next, which creates two unusually long poetic lines. I suggest removing the semi-colon and see a gapping of the phrase עַמְּךָ נְדָבֹת “your people will offer themselves freely” from the previous colon. See below for more details.
  6. John Goldingay, Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms; ed. Tremper Longman III; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 294-295.
  7. The reading of this verse is highly disputed; thus I do not hold to my view dogmatically. For those who also read this line “holy splendor,” see Nancy deClaissé-Walford, The Book of Psalms (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 834; John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, trans. James Anderson from the original Latin and collated with the author’s French version (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 296, 302. For those who read as “holy mountains” (thus emending the MT), see Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150 (TOTC 16; London: Inver-Varsity Press, 1975), 429; Leslie C. Allen, Psalm 101-150 (WBC 21; Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 109; Charles Augustus Briggs, The Book of Psalms (ICC 2; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1907, 1976), 373, 377. See Franz Delitzsch, Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Commentary on the Old Testament; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 696. See Goldingay, Psalm, 295-296, whose uncertainty can be seen in the fact that he provides comments on both “holy splendor” and “holy mountain.”
  8. For an explanation on the system of syntactic constraints that limit the length of a poetic line, thus keeping them terse, see Michael O’Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997); cf. Peter Y. Lee, Aramaic Poetry in Qumran (Chico, CA: Scholar’s Press, 2015), 49-61, where a modified form of O’Connor’s system of syntactic constraints is applied to Aramaic poetic texts.
  9. See Sue Gillingham, “From Liturgy to Prophecy: The Use of Psalmody in Second Temple Judaism,” CBQ 64 (2002): 483–84. Gillingham demonstrates that this prophetic understanding of the Qumran community was not limited to within the psalm scrolls but was also in numerous other sectarian texts within the Qumran texts.
  10. See Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 57–59.
  11. The suggestion that Luke 24:44 alludes to an early tripartite OT canon dated to the days of Jesus and the first generation of apostles is inconclusive. When this lone reference to an alleged tripartite OT canon is compared to the enormous amount of biblical references to “the Law of Moses and the Prophets”—that is, a two-fold canon as witnessed in Matt 5:17; 7:12; Luke 16:16, 29; Acts 13:15; Rom 3:21 to name only a few—the notion of an early three-fold canon division grows increasingly dubious.
  12. For example, see Allen, Psalm 101-150, 118; Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (2d ed.; Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1955), 132.
  13. Goldingay, Psalms, 298-299.
  14. Kidner, Psalms, 431.
  15. Ibid., 427, “So King David speaks in the psalm as the prophet who declaims the enthronement oracle to the Messianic King, corresponding to the oracle given to other kings at their anointing or crowning.”
  16. Briggs, The Book of Psalms, 378. See also Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III, 101-150 (AB 17A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 118–119.
  17. David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (JSOT Sup 252; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 263.
  18. Gerald H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBL Dissertation Series 26; Chico, CA: Scholar’s Press, 1985). Brevard Childs served as Wilson’s advisor to his dissertation and thus the canonical-critical methodology of his teacher had a clear impact upon his work in the psalms.
  19. For a brief introduction on this growing field of study, see Jamie E. Grant, “Editorial Criticism,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (eds. Tremper Longman and Peter Enns; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), 149-156.
  20. Although Wilson’s work persuaded many to accept that the psalter was a purposefully edited book, this canonical approach has its dissenters. For a critique of this canonical/editorial view of the psalter, see Erhard S. Gerstenberger, “Der Psalter als Buch und als Sammlung,” in Neue Wege der Psalmenforschung (eds. Klaus Seybold and Erich Zenger; HBS 1; Freiburg: Herder, 1994), 3-13; Roland E. Murphy, “Reflections on Contextual Interpretation of the Psalms,” in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (ed. J. Clinton McCann, Jr.; JSOT Sup 159; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 21-28; Norman Whybray, Reading the Psalms as a Book (JSOT Sup 222; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996); Goldingay, Psalms, 36.
  21. David M. Howard Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100 (UCSD Biblical and Judaic Studies 5; Winona Lake, IN; Eisenbrauns, 1997).
  22. Michael K. Snearly, The Return of the King: Messianic Expectation in Book V of the Psalter (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 624; London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 120-127.
  23. Ibid., 126.
  24. For further comments on the structural significance of the word עולם for Psalms 111-112, see Pierre Auffret, “Essai sur la structure littéraire des Psaumes CXI et CXII,” VT 30 (1980): 257-279.
  25. A case will be made for the royal identity of the wise man of Ps. 112 below.
  26. It should be noted that in the LXX the heading “Praise the Lord” occurs at the beginning of Psalms 113-119. In the MT, Psalms 113, 115, 116 end with “Praise the Lord.” The LXX interprets this not as the final line of the psalm, but rather as the introduction to the following one. LXX also seems to take Psalms 114 and 115 as one poem; for support to this unity, see Snearly, Return of the King, 197-200.
  27. Murphy, “Reflections,” 23.
  28. As there are skeptics of the “parallelism” between poems, so there are skeptics who reject parallelism in Hebrew poetry. After the days of Robert Lowth, early scholars disparaged his initial three-fold categories of synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic as too simplistic. However, this was replaced with an undisciplined approach to parallelism that produced endless categories of proposed correspondences. In reaction to this, some, like Michael O’Connor who rightfully criticized the undisciplined approach of these scholars, rejected parallelism altogether and saw it as nothing more than a “congeries of phenomenon”; see O’Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure, 5. The work of Adele Berlin is helpful in salvaging parallelism as a genuine poetic device; see Adele Berlin, Dynamics of Hebrew Parallelism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985). A case still remains to be made that a similar kind of correspondence occurs between psalms. Until this is established, academic skepticism is not only understandable but even appreciated and welcomed.
  29. See Snearly, Return of the King, 46-49, 187-188, where he makes the same observation regarding the analogy of parallelism with the editorial process of linking neighboring psalms with one another.
  30. See Snearly, Return of the King, 127, where he comments “Psalms 111-112 could also be added in support of the re-emergence of David because they pick up lexemes and themes from Psalm 110. Could they be intended as a type of commentary on Psalm 110?” The uncertainty of his claim can be seen in the fact that he states this in the form of a question and also in that it is found in a footnote. I carry forward his canonical intuition by demonstrating that there is a correlation between Psalm 110 and Psalms 111-112.
  31. Wilson, Editing, 213.
  32. Many deviated from Wilson on this point, which caused him to adjust his position; for a summary of this newly revised position, see Gerald H. Wilson, “King, Messiah, and the Reign of God: Revisiting the Royal Psalms and the Shape of the Psalter,” in The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception (eds. Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller; Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2005), 391-406. He would come to regard Books I-III not as a recollection of the failure of the house of David, but as a poetic collection intended “to foster hope for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom.” He says Books IV and V were later additions “to redirect the hopes of the reader away from an earthly Davidic kingdom to the kingship of Yahweh…to trust in Yahweh as king rather than in fragile and failing human princes.” For a response of this adjusted view of Wilson, see David C. Mitchell, “Lord, Remember David: G. H. Wilson and the Message of the Psalter,” VT 56 (2006): 526-534.
  33. Mitchell, Message of the Psalter, 79.
  34. Snearly, Return of the King, 127.
  35. As mentioned above, another union that interested the New Testament writers involved the reference to the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4. This “lord” of David would also be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek, not from the order of the Levites in the line of Aaron. The book of Hebrews is outstanding in this regard and in fact is the only place in the NT that not only cites this ancient priesthood (Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17) but also explicitly calls Jesus as “high priest.” The union of these two anointed offices in the person of Jesus Christ is remarkable for two reasons. First, discoveries of the sectarian texts in Qumran suggests that the expectation within Second Temple Judaism was for numerous “messiahs”; see 1QS 9:11 which mentions the coming of the “messiahs [plural] of Aaron and Israel.” Therefore, it seems that the messianic hermeneutic for Judaism was to keep distinct these two messianic offices, while the Christian hermeneutic was to see a union. The natural presumption is to believe that the OT also anticipated separate messiahs—one in the line of Aaron and one from David. However, if it can be demonstrated that the OT Scriptures envisioned a union of these two messianic offices in one single individual, then this would support the NT claims of messianic fulfillment in the one Person of Jesus Christ as a legitimate understanding of these ancient texts and does not violate their “Jewishness.” Psalm 110 would be one example of this. A second significant factor in the priest-king union in Psalm 110 is to recognize the extraordinary convergence of both a horizontal (priest-king) and vertical (divine-human) line of messianic fulfillment. This centripetal motion within this single psalm makes it truly outstanding and perhaps the reason why it was so favored by the NT writers.