In a previous post I discussed the meaning of the words “adoni” and “Adonai” (see below). The word “adoni” means “lord” and refers to an individual who is superior to another. The word “Adonai” refers to God as the divine Lord.
In the previous post I also discussed how the NRSV, the KJV, and the ESV translate the word “adoni” in Psalm 10:1. Both the KJV and the ESV translate the word “adoni” as “Lord” because the translators believe that the word refers to Jesus. The NRSV translates the word “adoni” as “lord” because the translator believes that the word refers to the king.
In the present post I will discuss Psalm 110 and show that the NRSV is correct and that the KJV and the ESV interject a theological meaning into the text that was not the intent of the original writer.
In the previous post, I wrote that a literal translation of verse 1 should read: “A saying of Yahweh to my lord: sit at my right hand.” This translation is important because the expression “a saying of Yahweh” (neum yhwh) is used by the prophets to introduce an oracle that carries divine authority. Generally, the expression “says Yahweh” (neum yhwh) comes at the end of an oracle (see Isa. 14:22; 17:3). The expression “says Yahweh” can also come at the beginning of an oracle as in Numbers 24:4, 16. In Psalm 110:1, the prophetic introduction comes at the beginning of the psalm.
The speaker in the psalm is probably a priest who anoints the king or a prophet who speaks a divine word from the Lord to the king. Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. Samuel was both a priest and a prophet. The speaker in Psalm 110 said to the new king: “A saying of Yahweh to my lord.” The word translated “lord” is “adoni” and should be translated “my lord.” The word is not “Adonai” which, if it had been used, would be a reference to God.
The occasion of Psalm 110 is the enthronement of a new king, probably David himself. The introduction to the psalm, “A Psalm of David” can also be read as “A Psalm for David.”
The psalm begins with the prophet saying that Yahweh was calling the king to sit at the right hand of God: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psa. 110:1). To sit at the right hand signifies a position of honor. The queen mother sat at the right hand of the king: “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him about Adonijah. The king stood up to greet her, bowed to her, sat down on his throne, and had a throne placed for the king’s mother. So she sat down at his right hand” (1 Kgs. 2:19 HCSB). See also Psalm 45:9 where the queen stands by the right hand of the king.
By sitting at the right hand of God, the king rules as a representative of God and sits on Yahweh’s throne as his son and representative. God said of David’s descendant: “He shall be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14). The Chronicler says that Solomon’s throne was God’s throne: “Solomon sat on the LORD’s throne as king in place of his father David” (1 Chron. 29:23).
The place where the enthronement of the new king takes place is in Zion, the city of David: “The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter” (Psa. 110:2). The scepter was the insignia of the king’s authority and power.
The psalm reflects an ancient tradition in Israel when the king was enthroned upon his throne in Israel. The new Israelite king was enthroned as King of Jerusalem and as a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” This means that the enthronement of the new king follows the tradition established by Melchizedek, the Jebusite king who was also a priest of the Jebusite population in Jerusalem. Thus, upon his enthronement, the “new king becomes an heir of the kingship of the old Jebusite population of Jerusalem” (Kraus, 2:347).
The priesthood of the king is affirmed by a divine oath: “The LORD has taken an oath and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the way Melchizedek was a priest’” (Psa. 110:4 GWN). By taking an oath, God was declaring that the priesthood of David and his descendants is irrevocable and eternal.
Melchizedek was a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God. After David conquered the city of Jerusalem the priestly function was given to the Israelite king, who was also king of Jerusalem. There are several texts in the Hebrew Bible that show that the king of Jerusalem exercised priestly functions.
2 Samuel 6:14 says: “David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.” In this text David is wearing an ephod, which was a priestly vestment (Lev. 8:6-7). David “blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts” (2 Sam. 6:18). Blessing the people was a priestly function (Num. 6:23). During the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, David made sacrifices to the Lord (2 Sam. 6:13, 18). In addition, 2 Samuel 8:18 says that “David’s sons were priests” (see below).
The writer of Psalm 110 provides several clues that indicate that the background of the psalm is the enthronement of a new king:
1. The psalm begins with a prophetic oracle: “A saying of Yahweh to my lord.”
2. The psalm includes the enthronement of a new king: “sit at my right hand.”
3. The king accepts the scepter, the insignia of his office.
4. The people commit themselves to his kingship: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power” (Psa. 110:3 ESV).
5. The king is installed as priest according to the order of Melchizedek (v. 4).
6. God promises to give victory to the king against his enemies (vv. 5-7).
Contrary to some scholars’ opinions, Psalm 110 does not provide a complete description of the enthronement ritual that took place when the new king ascended his throne. Rather, the psalm is one of the many enthronement psalms found in the Hebrew Bible that were recited or sang to the king on the day of his coronation.
If Psalm 110 is referring to the king of Israel on the day of his enthronement (possibly David), how can the psalm be interpreted Messianicly? On the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110, Kraus wrote: “The event of the word of God that pervades OT history and leads to the fulfillment in the NT is determined also in Psalm 110” (p. 353).
Kraus also wrote: “This word of God elevates the individual statements that are conditioned by history of religions and the history of traditions to a message that vastly transcends the kings’ enthronement in Jerusalem at any given time, his office and his activity. This message, no matter how it applies in full force to the OT ruler, is open–all the way to the final fulfillment” (p. 353).
As one who inherited the kingly tradition established by David, Jesus understood the prophetic word in Psalm 100:1 to be a reference to himself, the “final fulfillment” of the prophetic declaration in verse 1. Jesus’ controversy with the Pharisees (Matt. 22:41-45; Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44) provides the writers of the New Testament with the authority to declare that Jesus was the final fulfillment of a declaration that began with David himself.
The expression “Sitting at the right hand of God” appears 9 times in the New Testament: Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:34; 7:55; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 1 Pet. 3:22.
The expression “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” appear in Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:10, 11, 17 ((see below).
The expression “Defeating the enemies” appears in Acts 2:35; 1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13; 10:13.
Thus, Psalm 110 says that the King who ruled from Jerusalem was both king and priest, but it is Jesus Christ who is the ultimate bearer of the office of King and Priest in the Kingdom of God.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Hans-Joachim Kraus. Psalms 60-150: A Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989.
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