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Debunking Messianic Psalms: The Real Meaning of Psalm 110

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The book of Psalms is a collection of emotive Hebrew poetry, not a collection of prophecy.  And yet you will find Jewish leaders in the New Testament treating certain passages of Psalms as prophetic.  How do you find a prophecy where none exists?  By lying about what the original author meant, and this is what several of our New Testament authors do.  Instead of pointing this out to you, modern day Christian leaders are just perpetuating the lies.  Every time a non-prophetic psalm is turned into a Messianic prophecy by some fool in the New Testament, Bible translators go back to the original psalm and adjust the language to try and force the psalm to match what the New Testament author is saying.  In other words, we’re trying to hide how absurd our New Testament authors are being by covering for them. 

Well, wishing that the psalmists were speaking of Christ centuries in advance doesn’t make it so.  While there are plenty of legitimate Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, none of them are found in the book of Psalms because Yahweh is not the One doing the talking in Psalms.  Humans are talking in Psalms—humans who are very absorbed in their own feelings and who are simply venting their emotions in writing.  Often Yahweh is mentioned, and sometimes a psalmist will even put words in God’s mouth.  But when God is being quoted in a psalm, we often find that what He says merely reflects wishful thinking on the part of the psalmist.  For example, in Psalm 82, a frustrated Asaph describes Yahweh scolding the wicked men of Asaph’s day.  Yahweh is not speaking through Asaph—Asaph is just writing words for Yahweh that he wishes Yahweh would say because Asaph is tired of waiting for Yahweh to discipline people.  The point is this: you need to be asking God for wisdom whenever you’re reading the Bible.  You can’t just believe what some Bible commentator writes and—as we’ll learn in our study of Psalm 110—you can’t even trust that the language is always being translated accurately.  Because Christians have turned the Bible into a god, and they want that god to be infallible, they play a lot of shady games to try and hide just how wrong much of the biblical teaching is.  Let’s now go through Psalm 110 line by line and see if we can figure out what the author of this psalm originally meant—and why this psalm has nothing to do with Christ.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR PSALM 110

Psalm 110 was written by David, and he’s in a very up mood.  In this psalm, he is reflecting on some very fabulous personal promises from Yahweh that he has received.  If we’re going to understand some of the language David is going to use, we need to understand what some of those promises were.

As a sincere Old Covenant believer, David had a good thing going on with Yahweh.  He genuinely cared about pleasing Yahweh, and it was out of love for God that David wanted to build Yahweh a grand Temple to reside in.  In David’s day, there was no Temple.  The tent Tabernacle that had been constructed in Moses’ day was still in use.  Being the reverent fellow that he was, it bothered David to feel like his royal palace was nicer than God’s House, so he hit upon the idea of building Yahweh a super extravagant Temple in Jerusalem.  He told the idea to one of God’s prophets—a man named Nathan.  Also a sincere believer, Nathan thought the idea of honoring God in this way sounded great. But then one night, Yahweh spoke to Nathan and shared His feelings on the matter.  In a long speech to David in 2 Samuel 7, Yahweh explained that He appreciated David’s sentiment, but He didn’t want David to be the one to do the actual building.  Instead, He wanted that project handed off to David’s son Solomon after David was dead and gone.  But to make sure David understood how pleased He was by David’s intentions, Yahweh made David some very grand promises.  Here are some of the things Yahweh said:

“I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.” (2 Sam. 7:9)

“I will also give you rest from all your enemies.” (2 Sam. 7:11)

“Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Sam. 7:16)

Now to appreciate how thrilling this was for David, we have to understand David’s cultural values.  The Jews were very invested in being remembered on earth after they were dead and gone.  They were very concerned about their family lines continuing on long and strong.  These values reflect far too much attachment to earthly things.  Ideally, we would all mature past an attachment to this place and set our sights on eternal things.  Ideally, we would be so excited about being with the Lord in eternity that we wouldn’t give a hoot about anyone remembering us on earth.  But we don’t find ideal values being reflected in the Bible.  David  cared immensely about things that really don’t matter because that’s where he was at in his personal growth.  Fine, that’s human.  But what’s so neat is to see how Yahweh responds to David.  Even though David’s priorities are immature, Yahweh uses those priorities to make David feel extra special.  First, He says that He will make David’s name great.  This isn’t just a reference to David being famous in his own lifetime, but also a promise that David will be remembered as one of the greats long after he’s gone.  Yahweh further promises that David’s earthly throne in Jerusalem will continue forever.  This means that David’s family line will continue forever, plus it means that a descendant of David will always reign.  Did this actually happen?  Not at all.  While Christians today like to say that Christ’s eternal reign is a fulfillment of that promise, it’s really not.  In the first place, Christ was not a biological descendant of David.  Joseph was, but Joseph was not Christ’s biological father.  So the whole “Christ is the Lion of Judah” theory was really just based on a misconception because no one could prove that Mary was a true descendant of David (see Jesus: The Illegitimate Lion of Judah).  But even if Christ was a true descendant, it wouldn’t matter, because Yahweh smashed the kingdom of Judah and for a long time no Jewish king reigned there.

The disturbing truth is that God doesn’t always keep His promises.  The Bible is filled with evidence of God breaking specific promises that He made to various individuals, but if we start obsessing over that, we’re going to miss the very positive thing that Yahweh is doing here with David.  Think about it: once David dies and goes on to Heaven, is he really going to care about what’s happening back on earth?  Not at all.  By the time Yahweh breaks some of these promises to David, David will not be affected.  Yet by making these promises to David now, He is making David extremely happy because while David is still on the earth, he cares immensely about things that don’t matter.  So you see, God is working with David where David is at to really bless David.  This is a really neat thing to observe, and our Gods continue to operate the same way with us today: They meet us where we are at.  They talk to us within our cultural frameworks, and They encourage us within the context of our current values.  If you are maturing, your values are going to change, and as they do, you’ll find that your Gods change what They emphasize with you.  This is how it is supposed to work: we humans are designed to grow and change.  But how cool is it that our Gods meet us in every stage of our development instead of just standing back and expecting us to be instant adults?

So then, David has received some personal promises from Yahweh which result in David feeling enormously privileged, favored, and blessed by God.  And once we understand this, we’re ready to interpret Psalm 110.

PSALM 110

Yahweh said to my lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” (Ps. 110:1)

The first big mistake people make with this psalm is misunderstanding David’s perspective.  Because David is writing in the third person, people assume he isn’t talking about himself.  The common interpretation of this first verse is that David is describing some vision he is seeing of Christ.  Well, no, this is utterly absurd.  If we were more familiar with Jewish poetry and the prophetic books, we’d learn that Jews often talk about themselves in the third person.  This was so common that we find Yahweh Himself doing it when He’s talking to Jews.  In Exodus 34, Yahweh passes in front of Moses and speaks to Moses about who He is.  But notice how He talks about Himself in the third person:

“Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth…” (Ex. 34:6)

For English speakers, this sounds weird.  We expect speakers to always use the first person when referring to themselves, so to us, God should have said something like, “I am Yahweh.  I am compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth.”  Well, Yahweh isn’t talking to an English speaker in Exodus.  He’s talking to a Hebrew speaker who is used to third person language.  So it’s weird to us, but it’s not weird to Moses, and since Moses is who Yahweh is talking to, Yahweh uses language that makes sense to Moses.  You see, we can’t just blow off cultural context when reading the Bible.  God greatly adjusts His communication style depending on who He is talking to.

Now here in Psalm 110, David is talking about himself.  He is “the lord” who Yahweh is inviting to sit in a place of honor beside Yahweh’s throne.  Did Yahweh really say these words to David?  No, David is putting words in God’s mouth to describe how honored David feels by all of these great promises Yahweh has made him.  It’s like Yahweh has invited David to sit beside His throne—that’s how totally favored and blessed David feels.

A second major tripping point is this “lord” business.  English speakers today often use “the Lord” as a synonym for “God.”  In America, our culture doesn’t have the social ranks of lords and ladies.  In America, when we address a ruler, we use the respectful title of sir.  Well, in Bible times, the Jewish equivalent of sir was adonai or lord.  Wives called their husbands lord.  Citizens called their kings lord.  As the current king of Israel, David is referred to as lord by many people.  Here in Psalm 110, he’s describing himself from the viewpoint of a common Jewish citizen who is wowed by how favored David is by Yahweh.  So the Jewish citizen says, “Wow, check it out: Yahweh says to my lord the king, ‘Come sit at My right hand and watch Me take care of all of your enemies for you because I am so pleased with you.’”  This is the sentiment of verse 1.  It has nothing to do with Christ.  Let’s read it again:

Yahweh said to my lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” (Ps. 110:1)

Remember, Yahweh has specifically promised to give David peace from all of his enemies, and a king’s main enemies were his neighboring nations who were always trying to nip off pieces of his territory.  Usually the only way to get  prolonged peace from constant skirmishes was to manage to get in a position where your neighbors were afraid to mess with you, and it often required some major victories on the battlefield to get that kind of reputation.  Once a nation like Israel managed to get herself into the alpha position, she usually took advantage of her power by forcing other nations to pay tribute to her.  Tribute was essentially a form of bullying.  A strong king would say to a weaker king, “If you don’t want me to come and kill your people, then you’d better make regular payments to me.”  The strong king would then decide how much he wanted to be paid and what form he wanted the payments to be made in: animals, money, precious metals, etc..  It was really not a nice way to treat other people, but this is how the world worked in Bible times, and as we go through the Old Testament we find Israel taking turns doing the stomping, and getting stomped on as the balance of power shifts between her and other nations. Understanding this helps us understand the language used in the next two verses of this psalm:

Yahweh will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem; you will rule over your enemies. When you go to war, your people will serve you willingly. You are arrayed in holy garments, and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew. (Ps. 110:2-3)

Yahweh has promised David that he’ll have peace in his kingdom and a rest from his enemies.  In David’s logical mind, the only way that will happen is if David scores major victories on the battlefield which will result in other nations being stuck paying tribute to him.  So here he describes himself as “ruling” over other nations, and as having his soldiers glad to join him on the battlefield because they are so confident of his success.  As he pictures himself as an unstoppable, triumphant ruler, David describes himself as having strength that is renewed like the morning dew—strength which never falters.

Yahweh has taken an oath and will not break His vow: “You are a ruler forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)

Here we come to another tricky bit, and this verse is one which English Bible translators intentionally botch.  To understand why, we need to understand a few basic facts.  First, this psalm was originally written in Hebrew.  Like English, Hebrew has many words which have multiple meanings.  In English, when you talk about a trunk, are you talking about a compartment of your car, a piece of luggage, or the nose on an elephant?  It depends on context.  Trunk is a very busy word in English.  Well, every language has its share of multi-tasking words, and here in Psalm 110:4, the word that we’ve translated ruler can mean ruler or priest.  So which one did David mean?  Well, David is talking about himself and David is a king.  Here he describes Yahweh saying, “David, you’re going to be like Melchizedek.”  Well, who on earth was Melchizedek?

Way back in Genesis 14, Abraham met a fellow named Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was both the king and the chief priest over his people.  This was not at all unusual.  In Bible times, every nation had its national religion and national gods.  As a king, if you wanted to keep control over the people and secure your own position of power, you’d be smart to claim a superior role not only in politics, but also in religious affairs.  This is why we see Egyptian kings and some Roman emperors actually claiming to be deities—it was a great way to make people afraid to rebel against you.  Well, King Melchizedek didn’t claim to be a god, but he did hold the position of high priest in his kingdom, which was the next best thing.

In Genesis 14, Abraham is quite impressed with Melchizedek.  This is only natural, because Melchizedek totally outranked Abraham.  Today, you’d be impressed if you met the ruler of a nation that wasn’t your own simply because that person was a ruler and you’re not.  This was how it was with Abraham and Melchizedek.  They have a brief, positive exchange, and then we don’t hear any more about the mysterious Melchizedek.

Well, jump ahead many centuries and Melchizedek has been become a folklore figure in Jewish culture.  They basically did to Melchizedek what Americans did to Santa Claus: they took a normal guy and turned him into some mystical, magical figure.  According to Jewish folklore, King-Priest Melchizedek was immortal.  He had no beginning or end.  He always was.  Of course this was utter nonsense, but every culture has their folklore figures.

Now remember, Yahweh has promised David that his descendants will rule forever.  This is really exciting to David, and when he thinks of “a king who reigns forever” he instantly thinks of Melchizedek.  Then he thinks of how thrilling it is that Yahweh has given him an actual promise.  But remember, David wrote this psalm in Hebrew, and in Hebrew, the word David uses for ruler could also mean priest.  So what David actually wrote would sound more like this:

“You are a ruler/priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)

But what David meant would be this:

“You are a ruler forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)

There’s no question that David is referring to a ruler here, because God-fearing David would never confuse himself with one of Yahweh’s special priests.  David is not a Levite.  David doesn’t qualify as a priest of any kind.  But the fact remains that the language here can be toyed with—especially if you’re another Hebrew speaker who has a specific agenda.

If we jump ahead many centuries, we come to the book of Hebrews.  In that letter, we find all kinds of bad theology.  Christ is portrayed as less than God because the Jewish author of Hebrews doesn’t want to accept that Christ could be equal to the magnificent Yahweh.  And while he’s denying the Divinity of Christ, he’s also refusing to let go of the Old Covenant sacrificial system, Temple, and priesthood.  Even though Yahweh has called an end to all of these things, the author of Hebrews wants them to continue, so he simply transfers the whole set up to Heaven and declares that Christ is functioning as a high priest who is presenting atonement sacrifices to Yahweh on our behalf.  This is absolutely wrong, but this is what the author of Hebrews wants to believe, so this is what he teaches.  Then he tries to dig up some Old Testament verses that will back up his ridiculous theory because it always makes a lie go down easier if you quote a bunch of Bible verses.  Here is where he remembers Psalm 110 and that line that David wrote which could be conveniently interpreted multiple ways.  And even though it’s so obvious that David was referring to himself as a ruler, the Hebrew speaking author of Hebrews decides to take that Hebrew word which could be translated as ruler or priest and lie about what David actually meant.  One lie leads to another, and soon we’ve got the author of Hebrews putting out the utterly ridiculous theory that Psalm 110 isn’t about David at all, but rather a discussion between Yahweh and Christ.  And remember, the New Testament Jews don’t want to accept Christ as a second God.  To them, Christ is just a human who Yahweh gave special honors to.  This is why it works for them to pretend that in Psalm 110 Yahweh is talking to Christ.

Yahweh said to my lord, “Sit in the place of honor at My right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” (Ps. 110:1)

Remember, lord is a generic title of respect for Jews, so they can easily apply this to Christ.  And now we have Yahweh giving Christ this condescending little speech of, “Come here, You lesser, limited human: sit at this place of honor by My side while I take care of these enemies that are clearly too powerful for You to handle.”  Do you see what’s wrong with putting Christ in this verse?  It’s a great privilege when Yahweh says these things to David, but for Yahweh to speak to Christ this way would be quite insulting.  Christ is not some limited mortal who is feeling threatened by beings who are stronger than Him.  Christ is God Almighty.  So you see, when we try to say that Psalm 110 is a Messianic prophecy, we’re actually being very insulting to Christ.

In Hebrews, our delusional author goes on to interpret verse 4 of this psalm like this:

This change has been made very clear since a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” [Ps. 110:4] (Heb. 7:15-17)

The author of Hebrews says that this is actually Yahweh talking to Christ, and then he takes that Hebrew word that could mean priest or ruler, and translates it as priest.  Then he says that this “proves” that Christ is our high priest in Heaven who is currently interceding for us.  Well, no, this is total rubbish and a major insult to Christ.  In the first place, Yahweh is not so hard to please that we need a high priest in Heaven to constantly intercede for us.  In the second place, Christ’s death on a cross put an end to any further need for atonement sacrifices.  So you see, when we call Christ our high priest, we’re not just treating Christ as less than God, we’re totally rejecting what He did on the cross, and we’re refusing to let go of Old Covenant elements that both Yahweh and Christ say are no longer relevant.  Do you see how much trouble we get into by blowing off context and refusing to respect what the original author of this psalm was saying?

David had never heard of Christ.  He worshiped Yahweh as the one true, supreme God.  David was not seeing a vision of Christ when he wrote Psalm 110.  He was relishing the fantastic promises that Yahweh had given him.  Let’s now see how David finishes this psalm:

Yahweh is at your right side; when He becomes angry, He will defeat kings. He will pass judgment on the nations and fill the battlefield with corpses; He will defeat kings all over the earth.

The king will drink from the stream by the road, and strengthened, he will stand victorious. (Psalm 110:5-7)

Here David describes himself as having Yahweh’s total support.  Then he rightly gives Yahweh the credit for defeating David’s enemies.  He finishes by describing himself on the battlefield, refreshing himself with a drink from a brook.  Several times in the historical accounts of David’s military conquests we read descriptions of him pushing himself to the point of physical exhaustion only to then be miraculously re-energized with some simple sustenance.  The imagery used in this psalm is shaped by personal memories David has of times when he has felt very supported by Yahweh on the battlefield.  It is also filled with joyful anticipation of seeing Yahweh’s promises unfold.  This psalm is a praise song by one true believer who is feeling ecstatic about God’s pleasure with him.  But instead of giving you the chance to appreciate this psalm for what it is, modern Christian scholars are going to lie and tell you that it’s really about Christ. Then they will intentionally mess up the language in verse 4 to match what that fool in Hebrews says.  Today if you look up Psalm 110 in an English Bible, verse 4 will read:

Yahweh has taken an oath and will not break His vow: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)

They put in priest where they should have put in ruler, even though it is obviously the wrong choice when we examine context.  Then, if you’re reading one of the few translations that still uses reverential capitals for pronouns that refer to God, you’ll find a bunch of extra capitals that will cause you to conclude that this is a discussion between Yahweh and Christ when Christ really has nothing to do with it.

This is how it works in the Church today: we exalt the idiocy of New Testament writers, then we go back and change Old Testament passages to try and force them to match what New Testament guys say, even when those guys were obviously wrong.  Why do we act so shady?  Because if we don’t intentionally mangle the text, we’d have a much harder time selling the lie that the Bible is “inerrant, infallible and Divinely inspired.”  No, it really isn’t “God-breathed” to make Christ out to be some limited mortal who needs Daddy Yahweh to beat up Christ’s enemies for Him.  Such irreverent talk is not going to take us closer to our Gods, and with our scholars intentionally messing with us, we must be asking our Gods directly for discernment whenever we are reading any human’s writings about Them.  Our Gods are not a book, and Yahweh doesn’t talk condescendingly to Christ.  Christ is not a mortal or a priest: He is God Almighty.  But you’re not going to learn this by listening to the New Testament authors, so you’d better be talking to Christ Himself if you really want to know the truth.

FURTHER READING:
Creating a Different God: How the Bible is Being Changed to Lead You Astray
Applying Hebrews 7: Melchizedek Madness
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?
Rethinking Your Christmas Theology: Who is Jesus?
Intercession: Exposing the Lies

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