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Psalm 110

A question of authority

Like today, in David’s time God’s plan for his world was met with militant opposition from people sure they knew better than God. So he promises to make his ultimate king a priest, that being vital to his success.

A David psalm.

Yahveh’s word to my master was this:
“Sit enthroned at my right hand
while I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 Yahveh will extend
your powerful scepter from Zion.
Now, subdue your enemies on every side!
3 Your people will willingly rally to battle
on the day you assemble your forces
resplendent in holy armor.
You’ll fight with all the vigor of youth
fresh as the morning dew.

4 Yahveh has sworn
an oath he’ll never revoke:
“You are a priest forever
just as Melchizedek was.”
5 God is on your right
decimating rebel kings
on the day when he vents his anger.
6 He brings the nations to justice:
with bodies lying everywhere
he crushes heads of state the world over.
7 Then drinking from a brook along the way
he stands, head held high.

David writes about the descendant the prophet Nathan had promised him who would reign forever. By placing this psalm in Book V, the Psalms compiler clearly assures post-exilic Jews that—though Israel’s unfaithfulness led to the Davidic dynasty’s destruction—Nathan’s prophecy would yet be fulfilled in David’s greater son.

The psalm is built around two divine utterances. First, God exalts his chosen king to the place of highest honor, promising him absolute victory. This will play out in the king’s subjects rallying freely behind him and being clothed in holy armor and made strong in battle.

Second, God installs his king as priest forever. Unlike Canaanite kings, Israelite kings weren’t priest-kings. So God associates his king with Melchizedek’s priesthood. As king of Salem, Melchizedek served as Abram’s priest, his priesthood thus predating Aaron’s. With God fighting beside him, his king experiences total victory and subsequent refreshment.

The king’s installation as priest points to the Messiah’s upending of “politics as usual,” seen in Jesus’ subversion of all authority—religious and political—opposing his reign. God clearly doesn’t serve our self-seeking politics. Rather, we must submit all of life to him. The New Testament connects the dots between the Messiah-king’s victory and his priesthood: he triumphed and opened the way for us to God by laying down his life.

Jesus, as priest, you opened the door to God for all who came to you—prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers. Not for mouthing pious platitudes, but for challenging all who resisted your grace, you were crucified. And yet you triumphed! Empower me, Lord, to extend your rule wherever I go. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Yahveh has sworn an oath he’ll never revoke:
“You are a priest forever just as Melchizedek was.”

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.