The Messiah—King, Prophet, and Conqueror
1 A psalm of David.
The Lord says to my Lord:[b]
“Sit at my right hand
until I have made your enemies a footstool for you.”
2 The Lord will stretch forth from Zion
your scepter of power.[c]
The Lord says:
“Rule in the midst of your enemies![d]
3 Yours is royal dignity in the day of your birth;
in holy splendor, before the daystar,
like the dew, I have begotten you.”[e]
4 The Lord has sworn,
and he will not retract his oath:
“You are a priest forever[f]
according to the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord stands forth at your right hand;[g]
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He[h] will judge the nations,
filling their land with corpses
and crushing rulers throughout the earth.
7 He will drink from the stream on his journey,
and then he will lift up his head in triumph.[i]
- Psalm 110:1 These few surprising verses (which comprise essentially two oracles) became the supreme Messianic psalm in both the Jewish and the Christian traditions. It was so much used and adapted down the centuries before becoming part of the Psalter that it is difficult to reconstruct completely the original text. In its oldest version it certainly goes back to the earliest times of the monarchy.
The psalm was subsequently revised, perhaps on various occasions; the song no longer refers to the kings who are passing away but to the Messiah who is to come at the end of the earthly time and restore everything in the name of God. He will be of royal birth (see 2 Sam 7:16) and will be charged with judging the nations and ruling over the entire world. He will not be counted among the princes of the nations, who have their power from human beings, for God himself will invest him as everlasting King and Priest, as is shown by the parallel with the mysterious Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem, whose earthly ancestry no one knows (see Gen 14:18; Heb 7:3).
Jesus, who claims to be the Christ, that is, the Messiah, and Son of God, fulfills the promise given in this psalm, as he hints to the Pharisees (see Mt 22:42-45; 26:64); the apostles are inspired by this passage to proclaim the glory of the risen Christ, Lord of the universe (see Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33-35; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25-28; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 10:12f; 1 Pet 3:22). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews finds in this psalm the proof that Christ is superior to the priests of the Old Testament and that he alone is the Savior of humankind (Heb 7).
- Psalm 110:1 The first oracle (vv. 1-3) establishes God’s anointed as his regent over all (see Ps 2:7-12). The Lord says to my Lord: a polite form of address from an inferior to a superior (see 1 Sam 25:25; 2 Sam 1:10). By the word “Lord,” the court singer is referring to the king. Jesus, in interpreting this psalm, takes the psalmist to be David, who was acknowledged by all to be referring to the Messiah. Hence, the Messiah must be David’s superior and not merely his son or descendant (see Mt 22:41-46 par). Right hand: the place of honor beside a king (see Ps 45:10; 1 Ki 2:19), in this case making the Messiah second to God himself (see Mt 26:64; Mk 14:62; 16:19; Lk 22:69; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55f; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Footstool for you: there are secular texts and illustrations as well as biblical texts depicting ancient kings placing their feet on those they had conquered (see Jos 10:24; Dan 7:14). The author of 2 Chronicles (2 Chr 9:18) indicates that a footstool was part of the king’s throne. Paul made use of this text to show that God has placed everything under Christ’s feet (Eph 1:22), including his enemies (1 Cor 15:25; Heb 10:12f).
- Psalm 110:2 The Lord will expand the Messiah’s reign to the extent that no foe will remain to oppose his rule (see Pss 2:6; 45:7; 72:8).
- Psalm 110:2 The Messiah is the Lord’s regent over his emerging kingdom.
- Psalm 110:3 Yours is royal dignity . . . I have begotten you: this is the usual Catholic translation and comes from the revised Latin Vulgate, which is based on the ancient versions. The current Hebrew is obscure and seems to be corrupt. Before the daystar: when the sun had not yet been created, i.e., from all eternity. Like the dew: in a secret, mysterious manner. Hence, the Messiah and Son of God existed before the dawn of creation in eternity.
The Hebrew is translated as follows: “Your people will volunteer freely / on your day of battle. / In holy splendor, from the womb of the dawn / the dew of your youth is yours.” It refers to numerous royal troops at the Messiah’s command. The people come voluntarily on the day of battle, as in the days of Deborah (see Jdg 5:2, 9). They consecrate themselves, are fully prepared, and place themselves at his service. They will be as abundant as the dew at dawn. The image is close to those of Paul about “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) or a life poured out like a “libation” (Phil 2:17). It should be noted that, even not considering the linguistic difficulties that argue against this reading and the fact that the Septuagint of pre-Christian times already confirms the text of the Vulgate, the Hebrew reading does not fit the great theme of the psalm as well as the Latin translation does. Every connection with the central thought that speaks of the royal and priestly dignity of Melchizedek is missing.
- Psalm 110:4 The prophet-psalmist pronounces a second divine oracle, guaranteed by an oath. The Lord makes his king his chief priest for life, according to the order and image of Melchizedek. There are three main points of resemblance between Melchizedek and Christ. Both are kings as well as priests, both offer bread and wine to God, and both have their priesthood directly from God (see Gen 14:18; Heb 7). For a prophetic vision of the glorious union of the Messiah-Priest, see Zec 6:13; for the New Testament application, see Heb 5:6-10; 7:22. Forever: perhaps alluded to in Jn 12:34.
- Psalm 110:5 The Lord stands forth at your right hand: when the king goes out to battle, the Lord, as the Master of the universe, is right with him, and crushing the foes.
- Psalm 110:6 He: the Messiah-King. Filling their land with corpses: gory imagery symbolizing full victory (see Ps 2:9; Rev 19:11-21) when God’s judgment comes to pass.
- Psalm 110:7 Figurative language of uncertain meaning. Some see an allusion to a rite of royal consecration at the spring of Gihon (see 1 Ki 1:33, 38). Others see an image of the Messianic King bowing down in humility to drink of the waters of divine assistance before moving on to more victories (see Isa 8:6; Jer 2:13, 17f).