1 A Psalm of David. Yhwh[i] says to my master[ii]: "Sit at My right hand Until I put[iii] Your enemies as a footstool for Your feet." 2 Yhwh will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, "Rule in the midst of Your enemies." 3 Your people will be a freewill offering[iv] in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youths[v] are to You as the dew.
4 Yhwh has sworn and will not change His mind, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." 5 The Lord[vi] is at Your right hand; He shatters[vii] kings in the day of His wrath.
6 He will judge among the nations, He fills[viii] them with corpses, He shatters the head[ix] over a broad country. 7 He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up a[x] head.
Intertextuality is a concept that every serious student of the Bible must understand. In the simplest of terms, intertextuality describes the process by which the biblical writers use previous scripture to help illustrate or prove their point. One of the best examples of this is found in John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
When we read those first words, in the beginning, where does our mind immediately go? Probably to Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That is not a mere coincidence. John wanted your mind to go back to the beginning. John’s whole point is to portray Jesus of Nazareth as Almighty God. If we read carefully and slowly, we would be anticipating this very point. What would we expect after reading the words “in the beginning?” Moses follows that phrase up with God, yet John concludes the thought with the Word. Is the Word the same as God? In case we missed the subtle point, John makes his point explicitly clear in the second half of the verse – and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Understanding intertextuality and how it works is vitally important in understanding the text before us.
The text above is Psalm 110 based off of the NASB translation with a few amendments of my own. It is not my desire to write a critical commentary on this text but to unveil and unfold the glory and beauty of this psalm. In order to do that, the reader must be able to see with their own eyes the individual threads of this intricate tapestry.
Psalm 110 is known as one of the most obvious and glorious Messianic psalms. It is quoted or alluded to over a dozen times in the New Testament to point to the person of Jesus Christ, His completed work, His current state, and His future reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. But this Everest of texts does not appear in a vacuum. David weaves past promises and pictures of the coming Messiah into this prophecy. It is difficult for me to decide how or where to begin explaining this text. Perhaps we should begin at the beginning.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” – Genesis 3:15
Theologians have accurately named this verse the Protoevangelion or “the first gospel.” This of course is God’s pronouncement of the curse with this specific statement directed at the serpent, Satan. God promised to place enmity/conflict/hostility between Satan and the woman, between the offspring of Satan and the ultimate offspring from the woman. This final offspring will bruise Satan’s head while Satan will bruise the offspring’s heel. The idea is that a bruised head is fatal while a bruised heel would only be a temporary annoyance. There is also an implication that Satan’s head will become bruised as a result of being trampled underfoot by the offspring’s heel.
Keep all of this in mind. David is not only using the ideas and concepts from this magnificent verse, but actually borrows from the very words of this first proclamation of the good news.
Judges chapters 4 and 5 records the account of God delivering Israel from the hand of Jabin the king of Canaan. The Canaanites have always been the mortal enemies of Israel. Had the nation been faithful during the days of Joshua and the initial conquest, these enemies would have ceased to exist. Yet here they are. The curse remains. The victory that is described in Judges 4 was brought about not by Barak and his 10,000 men, but by Yhwh who routed the Canaanite army led by Sisera. This defeat was made complete when a woman, Jael, crushed the head of Sisera by driving a tent peg through his temple. This account is graphic but is also emblematic of the final victory to come. A woman crushing the actual head of the leader (or head) of Israel’s enemy.
Judges chapter 5 is a song dedicated to this God-given victory where we read statements of profound theological truth like vv. 24-27: “Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; Most blessed is she of women in the tent. He asked for water and she gave him milk; in a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. She reached out her hand for the tent peg, and her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; and she shattered and pierced his temple. Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead.”
David draws from both of these texts as he writes the glorious victory song we know as Psalm 110. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of final victory. Judges 4-5 is a microcosm or a picture of final victory. But it is Psalm 110 that provides a clear prophecy of this coming final victory.
1) Christ our Atonement
The Psalm begins with a puzzling statement: “Yhwh says to my master.” Keep in mind that this is written by David, the king of Israel, a man beholding to no one other than Yhwh Himself. Yet Yhwh is addressing someone other than David who David describes as his master. Who could this be other than the Messiah who will come from David? David always knew that he was simply a step in the line of Yhwh’s Anointed One - Messiah. What does Yhwh say to David’s master?
Sit as My right hand until I put Your enemies as a footstool for Your feet.
The author of Hebrews makes a great deal out of this command to sit. As he makes the argument for Jesus as our great high priest, he notes that the work of Israel’s Levitical priests was never done. They never sat down (Heb. 10:11-12). Yet the work of David’s master is complete, it is finished! Now Yhwh beckons Him to the right hand of power (Mat. 26:64) until such a time where Yhwh places all of His enemies beneath His feet.
The language here is nearly identical to the language of Gen. 3:15. The same Hebrew root for enemy in Psalm 110 matches the root of enmity in Gen. 3:15. David even uses the same verb to place/put/make as did Moses when he recorded the events of the fall. The point is this: after David’s Lord, the One we know as Jesus Christ, completed His cross-work of atoning for the sins of His people, Yhwh commands Him to sit beside Him until the final victory is completed. The same victory that was promised in the garden and pictured on the plain of Megiddo.
The next two verses describe this future reign of Christ, David’s Master. His power comes directly from Yhwh and will be based out of His capital Jerusalem. From there He will rule in the midst of His enemies. They will be subjected to Him. As for His people, they will come freely, quickly, and abundantly. The language here is almost identical to Judges 5:2 where the people are described as freewill volunteers as they march into battle against Sisera. When Christ comes into His kingdom, in the day of His power, His people will be adorned in holiness, they will come out with willingness, and they will be as countless as the dew which appears instantaneously when morning dawns.
2) Christ our Priest
The next section begins in v. 4. David writes a most emphatic statement that what Yhwh is about to declare is eternally binding and can in no way be undone, countermanded, or undermined. Yhwh speaks to David’s Master and says, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” This is obviously a reference to the king-priest of Salem (Jerusalem) to whom Abraham paid tithes to in Genesis 14. The office of king and priest will be forever united in Christ who both rules emphatically as king and mediates eternally as priest. He is one and the same. The work of atonement is truly finished. But His people will forever require an intercessor. They come adorned in holiness, but that holiness is not theirs. They come wearing His holiness.
3) Christ our coming King
The remaining verses describe the future and coming campaign of Christ to retake what is rightfully His. The line is blurred between David’s Master and Yhwh at the mention of The Lord. Yhwh, who beckoned Messiah to sit at His right hand, is now working at the right hand of Messiah. It is Messiah who will shatter kings on the day of His wrath (Ps. 2) at which time He will most certainly judge the nations. As their rightful king, it is His right and privilege to do so. This judgement, when He comes, will result in a pile of rebellious corpses and the death of the rebellious head.
The phrase “He will shatter the chief men over a broad country” in the NASB is better understood as “He shattered the head over a broad country.” The phrase is a perfect quotation from Judges 5:26 which describes Jael shattering the head of Sisera. So much more than simply killing the leaders of men, this verse prophesies of a time when Christ will finally crush the serpent’s head as promised in Genesis 3. The rebel of rebels and leader of sedition will be forever slain!
The psalm ends in a most glorious manner. Many commentators suggest that the picture of Christ drinking from the brook is a scene of unfinished business. They suggest that He pauses to refresh Himself before finishing the fight. But the fight was completed in v. 6. The word brook here is a word the same word that is translated torrent in Judges 5:21. It describes a seasonal stream that would run high and fast during the rainy season and be reduced to a trickle during the dry times. The provision of seasonal rains has always been a sign of God’s blessing upon His people to the point that their appearance was to be taken as a sign of God’s approval and their absence an indication of His judgment (Deut. 11; 1 Kings 8). There’s something more here.
If we look at v. 7 as a whole and take into account where it sits (at the end) in relation to this psalm, it may become clearer. The final victory over sin, Satan, and death wrought by Christ institutes a time of seasonless blessing because the curse has been eradicated and undone. Therefore, Christ emerges as the one and only head.
In this short explanation I have attempted to show the threads which David used in weaving this victory song. Genesis 3:15 contains the promise of final victory. Judges 4 provides the picture of a microcosm of this victory and carries with it a victory song of its own (Judges 5). Psalm 110 is the prophecy of this complete and final victory and functions as Christ’s victory song. I can only speak for myself, but I long to sing this song before Him when He returns to reign and rule in righteousness. Come quickly Lord Jesus! Soli Deo Gloria!
[i] When the NASB places “Lord” in all capital letters it reflects the Hebrew יהוה or Yhwh. This alteration is also found in vv. 2 & 4. [ii] The Hebrew word xx is almost always translated as Lord but indicates someone in authority, a master. David here is speaking of an individual who is other than God the Father yet is in a position of authority over him, the king of Israel and possessor of the Messianic promise. [iii] The Hebrew xx could easily be translated as make or as place. I have opted to change the translation to better reflect the original thought as a reference to Genesis 3:15. [iv] The Hebrew text reads as if the people themselves are the freewill offering. They offer themselves for service. [v] The Hebrew text reads with a plural noun here and thus indicates the plural people of God as compared to the dew rather than the youthfulness of David’s master. [vi] This word is left unchanged. Though similar to “my master” in v. 1, the Hebrew is pointed differently. The current form is a word that is exclusively used to refer to God as opposed to other human masters. [vii] This is a perfect verb and indicates either a current state or a completed action rather than a future action. [viii] This is also a perfect verb (as well as the following “shatters”). These two verbs work together to describe the stative process of the future judgment. David’s master will judge the nations by filling them with corpses and shattering the head. [ix] The Hebrew reads “a head.” [x] The oldest manuscripts do not have the 3rd person pronoun his but leave the noun as is: a head.