A while back, there was this funny, weird exchange that took place on Twitter (I know it’s hard to believe, right?). Somebody wrote that the Coronavirus was as deadly and desperate a situation as the pandemic in the novel The Stand by Stephen King. Well, Stephen King tweeted back: “It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.” The guy replied, “And how would you know?! Did you even read that book?”
Wouldn’t you agree that the author of a book is better equipped to interpret the book than some Tom, Dick or Herschel who happened to read it? Wouldn’t a songwriter be better equipped to tell you what the lyrics to their song mean than anyone else? By the way, you can ask Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, or Leonard Lipton, his friend who wrote the poem, and they’ll tell you unequivocally that Puff the Magic Dragon has nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana or any other drug. It’s about the inevitability of children growing up and leaving their innocence behind.
All this to say that there is only one Person that we could say is as fully qualified to interpret Psalm 110 as its author (King David) and that is Messiah Himself. After all, we affirm the Scriptures as having been divinely-inspired; and Messiah Yeshua is deity. Not only will we study this psalm this morning, but we will also consider His interpretation of this psalm – which is the only correct interpretation. Let’s read Psalm 110 straight through, and then come back and take it slowly.
A Psalm of David
The LORD declares to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble Your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” The LORD will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem; You will rule over Your enemies. When You go to war, Your people will serve you willingly, arrayed in holy garments, and Your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew. The LORD has taken an oath and will not break His vow: “You are a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord stands at Your right hand to protect You. He will crush kings on the day of His wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses, and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. But He Himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way. He will be victorious!
This really is an amazing psalm. It describes an individual who is at one and the same time a victorious warrior, a unique and eternal priest, and a Judean king who enjoys God’s highest honor and favor! I suspect that a lot of Christians, especially those who don’t spend much time in the Scriptures, would be very uncomfortable to learn that upon His return to earth, Messiah will wage war against the wicked, and that many people across the world will die in the process. I can just imagine somebody saying, “But that doesn’t sound like the groovy, hipster Jesus I believe in. How could the meek and humble Lamb of God, who gave His life for sinners, ever wage war and kill?”
Well, such a person will be dismayed to learn that that one-dimensional warm, fuzzy Jesus who some hipster pastor fabricated out of cherry-picked Bible verses proves not to be the Messiah who really is; the holy, righteous, fearsome King whom the Scriptures describe also as a victorious warrior, who will slay the wicked and put an end to the long, lamentable age of man’s rebellion against God. Yes, there’s that whole other aspect of Yeshua’s character; that side of Him you’ll never hear about from man-pleasers masquerading as shepherds of a flock.
Psalm 110 falls into the category of Royal Psalms, and arguably it is the ‘King of the Royal Psalms’. You’ll understand why in just a few moments. It is our belief here at Shema that all of the Scriptures are divinely-inspired, and further, that all of Scripture is meant to point us in the direction of one Person in particular: Messiah Yeshua, the Son of the Living God – the One sent from Heaven to Redeem fallen humanity; as many as will give Him their love and loyalty. But now, let’s go back through this psalm a verse or two at a time.
The LORD declares to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble Your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”
For obvious reasons, we will spend a disproportionate amount of time this morning to consider the meaning and the implications of verse one. So don’t panic if we seem to be spending a lot of time just on this verse. I promise you, my d’rasha won’t go over two hours…
This one verse, Psalm 110:1, is quoted no less than 15 times in the New Covenant; four of those times in the Book of Hebrews alone; making it the most quoted Old Testament verse in all of the New Testament! That tells us that the Jewish writers of the New Covenant Scriptures regarded this as extremely important if we are to understand who Yeshua is, and what is to come.
King David is the author of the Psalm, but he isn’t writing about himself. Rather, he is prophesying, and that about someone much greater than he. And that’s saying a lot, since David was both a prophet and Israel’s great king. In order to identify the subject of his prophecy, to correctly interpret this verse, let’s hear what the ultimate authority on the interpretation of Scripture had to say. Let’s read Yeshua’s words in Matthew 22:41-46. In context, this exchange comes right after the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians conspired together to trap Yeshua with a series of dishonest questions; also dangerous questions, because they were calculated at the very least to discredit Him, but potentially even to get Him put to death, either by an angry mob or else by decree of Caesar. Messiah answered their questions brilliantly, never once in danger of falling into their traps, and then He turned the tables on them. Let’s read about it.
Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Yeshua asked them a question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he? They replied, “He is the son of David.” Yeshua responded, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? For David said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.” Since David called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” No one could answer Him. And after that, no one dared to ask Him any more questions.
Were the Pharisees wrong in saying that the Messiah is the son of David? Yes and No. On the one hand, ‘Son of David’ is a Messianic title, and according to God’s promise the Messiah had to be a direct descendant of King David. But their answer, like their understanding, was woefully incomplete. They answered hastily and automatically, without considering that the Messiah would, ultimately, be the Son of God, and infinitely greater than David. He points them to Psalm 110:1 to make the point. David prophesied of the Messiah, whom he called his ‘Lord’. Yeshua was affirming the biblical truth that the Messiah is Himself Divine.
In the Ancient world, no father would ever refer to his son as his ‘master’ or superior. David would never call any of his sons ‘Lord’. So, in reality, there is no other way to correctly interpret this verse than that David is speaking of Messiah. And we are convinced that the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, the Divine Son of God and great King who will soon return to Earth as a warrior on a white horse!
David… is prophesying, and that about someone much greater than he. And that’s saying a lot, since David was both a prophet and Israel’s great king.
Again, let’s read verse 1:
The LORD declares to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble Your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”
There are a few more things we should consider from this verse. First, let’s talk about the imagery of being placed at the right hand. Sorry to all you southpaws, but the right hand side in the Ancient Near East was the place of honor. To be seated at someone’s right side at a special function meant you were the most honored person among those invited.
There are nearly 20 references in the New Covenant to Yeshua, having risen from the dead, in victory being seated at the right hand of the Father. Why is this point stressed by the biblical writers? It’s because it shows Messiah Yeshua’s equal standing with God, and His being seated is a symbol of having successfully accomplished all that He was sent to do. When, for example, Peter quotes this verse, he does so to highlight Messiah’s resurrection and authority.
Let’s talk about the imagery of the footstool. In the Ancient Near East, it was not uncommon in the aftermath of a war, for the king of the victorious nation to use the neck of the vanquished king as a footstool in a public display of triumph, to show his people the subjugation of the enemy. Look again at the wording here; God invites Messiah to sit at His right hand, and God Himself gives victory, humbling Messiah’s enemies in this ancient way. Will this literally happen? I don’t know, but what we can say without qualification is that there will be opposition to Yeshua when He first ascends His throne in Jerusalem, and that His enemies will be overwhelmingly defeated and humbled before Him.
The LORD will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem; You will rule over Your enemies.
Jerusalem will be the capitol of Messiah’s kingdom, but His rule will extend over all the earth – and as much in the prophecies of Zechariah as here in David’s prophetic psalm, we see that His rule will be met with futile opposition. Yeshua will have enemies, at least at the outset of His enthronement. For all the ‘God’ talk in the world, it’s just that – talk. There are, in reality, few who are loyal to His Son, Yeshua. You can talk all day long with people about ‘God’ and nobody really takes issue. But as soon as Jesus’ name is mentioned, watch people begin to bristle.
And even among confessing Christians, there are many who have no regard for the Jewish people or Israel. Yet the Scriptures tell us again and again that Jerusalem will be the place of the Jewish Messiah’s throne. Like it or not, the Scriptures describe a Kingdom that is both geocentric and, as to its King, ethnocentric. Yes, a Jew will rule the world!
When You go to war, Your people will serve You willingly, arrayed in holy garments, and Your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.
Psalm 96:9 says, Worship the Lord in holy garments… How do you feel about going to war in holy garments? For that matter, how do you feel about engaging in combat? We’ve got to correct this deeply flawed notion in the Body of Messiah that when Yeshua returns, everything suddenly and magically becomes idyllic. With one voice, the Scriptures declare that Messiah will have enemies, and will need to conquer His enemies, and for at least some period of time, rule the Earth with a rod of iron. But know this: we will not be expected to battle in our own strength, but rather through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. And David continues: Your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew. Messiah will be victorious, which means we will share in that victory.
But here’s another question: do you serve Him willingly NOW? Warfare aside, are you even willing to serve in the nursery, or the kitchen crew, or as a greeter, or with our worship team? Are you willing to put on a “Jesus Made Me Kosher” t-shirt and talk to people at an arts and music festival? Are you willing to join your brothers and sisters and take a stand against abortion even if it means enduring a few verbal insults?
David writes, Your people will serve You willingly… If you have to be coaxed or guilt-tripped into actually serving in a time of relative ease, how on earth would you manage if serving Him means fighting with and for Him? I guess we’ll find out in due course who really are His people.
The LORD has taken an oath and will not break His vow: “You are a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
This verse is quoted three times in The Letter to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews); once in chapter 5, and twice in chapter 7. Again, this conveys the importance the Jewish writers of the New Covenant placed in this Psalm, to help us understand the nature, character, authority, and ministry of Messiah Yeshua.
Messiah is from the tribe of Judah, not of Levi. He will not be a priest like those who descended from the family line of Aaron; men who served for a certain number of years at the Temple. His Priesthood has no beginning and no end, and like Melchizedek, whose ancestry is shrouded in mystery, who shows up out of nowhere, and seemingly just as quickly vanishes, Messiah is not of this world. You see the bewilderment of the Jewish religious leaders about Him. On the one hand, they thought they knew who Yeshua was; they knew of his family, and perhaps saw Him grow up in their midst. But He wasn’t from a scholarly family, and didn’t attend any of their yeshivas, so they wondered how He became so knowledgeable.
Yes, like a priest, He intercedes with Adonai on our behalf, but unlike the priests who descended from Aaron, He needs no sacrifice for Himself. He is without sin, and He is eternal in nature. This is the argument that the writer of Hebrews makes and quotes this verse to do so – three times!
The Lord stands at Your right hand to protect You. He will crush kings on the day of His wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses, and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
It is a beautiful twist on that imagery of being at the right hand. David declares that Adonai will stand at Messiah’s right hand, giving Him protection and victory. The place of the right hand, in ancient Jewish understanding, was considered the place of strength. We often echo the words of Joshua and of David, “The battle belongs to the Lord”.
There is a coming day of God’s wrath. Some of the most beloved hymns of the Church speak of it, including The Battle Hymn of the Republic. But I fear we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness and wrath, preferring to hear only about His love and mercy. Somehow, I doubt the contemporary worship tunes coming out of Bethel or Hillsong speak of God’s wrath. In fact, I wonder if anyone in modern times has put the words of Psalm 110:5-6 to music. Would you feel comfortable singing “He will crush kings… He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses”?
If anyone thinks I am making too much of this aspect of God’s plan, and of Messiah’s character, or if anyone has this idea that it is exclusively an Old Testament teaching, and that the New Covenant doesn’t teach it, I refer you to the words of the Apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Corinth:
For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Messiah. But each in his own order: Messiah the First Fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Messiah. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after He has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
And to the words of The Revelation:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called ‘Faithful and True,’ and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems… and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”
But He Himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way. He will be victorious!
Messiah will not go out to battle anxiously, nor hastily, but this is a picture of calm and certainty. He and His armies can afford to stop and to be refreshed by streams and brooks. It is all confidence. There isn’t so much as a hint of doubt as to whether He (and we who are with Him) will experience victory over the wicked. God Himself guarantees it, and will crush Messiah’s enemies.
I grant you, Psalm 110 paints a picture which most modern Christians find both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I am recommending that we get used to the idea, that we dive deeper into the Scriptures, and fully embrace the teaching of verse 3: When You go to war, Your people will serve You willingly, arrayed in holy garments…
So… saddle up!
Lord our God, this Psalm is every bit as much Your Word as every other passage of Scripture. We know this, but we still find it difficult. Help us even today to be equipped and fully prepared for that Day. We are weak, but You are our strength. We ask that, through Your Holy Spirit, You renew our strength and our resolve to willingly serve You, in holy array, in peace and in war… to Your eternal glory.
 See 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Isaiah 11:1 and Psalm 89:3-4
 See 1 Peter 3:22
 1 Corinthians 15:22-25
 Revelation 19:11-16 (excerpted)