Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 110

THE MESSIAS AS KING AND PRIEST AND JUDGE

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech~Ps 110:4

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech~Ps 110:4

THE psalmist has heard in the spirit an oracle spoken by Yahweh to his “Lord,” the Messias. In lyrical form he sets before us the words of the oracle, and the enthusiastic words which he himself addressed to Yahweh in reference to the divine oracle. In verses 1-3 he tells how he has heard God summoning the Messias to share His divine throne, and to exercise the divine power which that sharing of God’s throne implies. From Sion the Messias will rule, and will keep in subjection the enemies of Yahweh round about. By his birth the Messias is a king, and Yahweh has given him the oil of royal consecration among the sacred hills of Sion (see notes below). But the Messias is not merely to be a divine King: he is appointed also an eternal Priest—and that not by the utterance of any ordinary formula, but by an oath of God Himself (verse 4). This oath, which the psalmist in his ecstasy as prophet has heard, is irrevocable, for Yahweh repents not of it. By the oath the Messias is appointed a Priest forever after the manner of Melchisedech. The Kings of Israel, though they sometimes performed quasi-priestly functions, were not, as most of the heathen kings of the ancient Near East were wont to be, the chief priests, as well as the chief rulers of their people. But the Messias will be, in the fullest sense, both Priest and King. Hence his Priesthood cannot be that of the Aaronites: it must become like that of the mysterious King of Sion, Melchisedech, who appears bearing unbloody gifts in Gen 14:18. Here (verse 4) the divine oracle ends, and the psalmist turns to Yahweh to forecast in glowing words the might and vigour with which his “Lord”—the Messias who sits at the right hand of Yahweh—will exercise judgment against the enemies of the Messianic Kingdom. Like the Anointed of Ps 2 the Priest-King will break the power of his royal foes: he will defeat their armies over a wide extended battlefield, which, after the struggle will be strewn with the corpses of the slain. To make complete the defeat of his foes the victorious Priest-King and Judge will strike off the heads of the slain, and cast them into the way-side wady (wadi), with whose waters, as the psalmist grimly says, they may quench their thirst! (See Notes.) From the battle the Messias will go forth proudly as conqueror, with head raised aloft (verses 5-7).

The psalm is ascribed to David in the title. Our Lord speaks directly of David as its author (Mark 12:35 ff; Luke Luke 20:41 ff; Matt 22:41-46) and it is clear from His words that the Davidic origin of Ps 110 was generally accepted by the Jews of Our Lord’s time. It is clear also that Our Lord and His Jewish contemporaries looked on the Messias as the “Lord” of the psalm. That the psalm is Davidic and Messianic was accepted without question in the Apostolic Age (see Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55 ff; 1 Cor 15:24 ff; Eph 1:18-23; Heb 1:3, 13; Heb 5:5; Heb 6:20; Heb 7:17, 21; Heb 8:1; Heb 10:12 ff; 1 Peter 3:22).

The Messianic reference of the psalm is demanded by the whole thought of the poem. David, the great king of Israel, would not have addressed any other than the Messias with the title, “my Lord.’ Again, only the Messias could be invited to share the throne and power of God. No ordinary king of Israel, and, indeed, no one merely mortal could receive an eternal priesthood. Neither could the abrogation of the Aaronite priesthood and the substitution for it of a priesthood like that of Melchisedech be attributed to any King of Sion except the Messias. Finally, to the Messias alone could God entrust the carrying out of the world-judgment.

All attempts to identify the Priest-King of this psalm with ordinary Israelite kings have failed. This is true particularly of the attempt to identify the hero of the psalm with the Maccabean prince, Jonathan, even though the latter was given a sort of priestly, as well as royal, rank. Simon, according to 1 Macc 14:41, was appointed “prince and high-priest for ever,” and some commentators have, therefore, sought to make a case for Simon as the “Lord” of this psalm, and have thought to find confirmation for this view by pointing out that the initial consonants of verses 16-4 of the psalm spell the name “Simeon.’ The acrostic, however, is an accident, and there is no good reason for regarding the priestly kingship of Simon as in any way like the power of the ancient Priest-King of Salem, Melchisedech. Besides, since we cannot deny the Davidic origin of the psalm, we are compelled to hold that the “Lord” of whom David sings is the Messianic King. Image by Jean Hippolyte, flandrin. From the book THE BIBLE AND ITS STORY. Horne, C., & Bewer, J. (1908). The Bible and its Story, Volume 1: The Law, Genesis to Leviticus. New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch.

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