Theme: The Identity of David’s Lord
This week’s lessons teach us about the most quoted psalm in the New Testament.
Scripture: Psalm 110:1-3
It is easy to see why this first and most often quoted verse is so important. In Hebrew the first word for “Lord” is Jehovah or Yahweh, which is indicated by its being printed in capital letters. It refers to the God of Israel. The second word for “Lord” is “Adonai.” Adonai refers to an individual greater than the speaker. So here is a case of David citing God’s words in which God tells another personage, who is greater than David, to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies a footstool for his feet. This person can only be a divine Messiah, who is Jesus Christ.
This argument depends on two assumptions, of course. The first is that the psalm is by David. Otherwise, it could be construed only as an inferior member of the court flattering David by calling David “Lord” and suggesting that he was to rule with God’s special blessing. The second is that David wrote by inspiration so that what he said about this divine figure really is true and is a prophecy of Jesus Christ. Jesus made both these assumptions when he spoke of “David, speaking by the Spirit.”
Which makes it astonishing that so many commentators refer Psalm 110 to another human writer. They see it as flattery of a merely human king (though with messianic overtones), and they explain Jesus’ words as a concession to the widespread but mistaken opinions of his age regarding David’s authorship of the psalms.1 This is a terrible error, and it misses the point of the psalm completely.
Derek Kidner expresses the issue well:
Nowhere in the Psalter does so much hang on the familiar title A Psalm of David as it does here; nor is the authorship of any other psalm quite so emphatically endorsed in other parts of Scripture. To amputate this opening phrase, or to allow it no reference to the authorship of the psalm, is to be at odds with the New Testament, which finds King David’s acknowledgment of his “LORD” highly significant. For while other psalms share with this one the exalted language which points beyond the reigning king to the Messiah, here alone the king himself does homage to this personage—thereby settling two important questions: whether the perfect king was someone to come, or simply the present ruler idealized; and whether the one to come would be merely man at his best, or more than this.
Our Lord gave full weight to David’s authorship and David’s words, stressing the former twice by the expression “David himself,” and the latter by the comment that he was speaking “in the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36f.) and by insisting that his terms presented a challenge to accepted ideas of the Messiah, which must be taken seriously. Peter, too, on the Day of Pentecost, stressed the contrast in the psalm between David “himself” and his “Lord,” who “ascended into the heavens” to be “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33-35).2
Peter’s conclusion from this verse is as valid today as it was when he cited it as part of his sermon on the Day of Pentecost two thousand years ago: “Therefore…be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people were convicted by his preaching to the point of crying out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:36-38).
1For example, Leslie C. Allen largely ignores its claims to have been written by David, even though so much is at stake (see Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21, Psalms 101-150 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), pp. 83-87. For a sound answer to attempts to weaken the psalm by reassigning its authorship, see H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 770-775.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), pp. 391, 392.
What two assumptions are made in the interpretation given for verse 1?
Differentiate the two words David uses for “Lord.” Why does David use them both?
Why is it important to recognize David’s authority in this psalm?
What error is sometimes made in explicating verse 1? How do you know it is in error?
Prayer: Ask God to reveal Christ to you as you read the Old Testament.