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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Psalms 110

This psalm is entitled “A Psalm of David.” It is also ascribed to David by the Saviour Matthew 22:43; and by Peter Acts 2:34; and there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the title. There is nothing, however, in the title, or in the psalm, to determine at what period of David’s life, or on what occasion it was written. Aben Ezra supposed that it was at the time referred to in 2 Samuel 21:15-17; and others have selected other occasions in the life of David. But all this is conjecture. The psalm has no particular reference to anything in his history, and as it is wholly prophetic of the Messiah, it might have been composed at any period of his life.

The psalm is repeatedly quoted in the New Testament as referring to the Messiah, and in such a manner as to show that this was the customary interpretation among the Jews, or that it might be referred to by way of “proof” in regard to the Messiah, so that the relevancy and pertinence of the argument would be at once admitted. Matthew 22:44 (compare Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42); Acts 2:34; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17, Hebrews 7:21. The way in which it is quoted shows that this was the prevailing and received mode of interpreting the psalm.

Yet this belief has not been uniform. DeWette supposes that it refers to David himself. Jarchi supposed that it referred to Abraham; Borhek, to Solomon; Justin Martyr and Tertullian, to Hezekiah. See Rosenmuller.

The application of the psalm in the New Testament to the Messiah is so clear and unequivocal, that we are bound to defend the opinion that it was “designed” to refer to him; and the manner in which it is quoted shows that it was in no secondary sense, and in no way of “accommodation,” but that it had an original and exclusive applicability to him. Every principle of honesty in interpretation demands this. There may be difficulties in the interpretation itself, but the fact that it refers to the Messiah involves no difficulty, if it be once admitted that there is such a thing as prophecy at all, and that “any” portion of the Old Testament has reference to a Messiah. There is no part of the Old Testament that is more clearly applied to him in the New Testament than this psalm; there is no part that more naturally suggests the Messiah; there is none that is more difficult of explanation if it be maintained that it does not refer to him; there is none that is made more plain by referring it to him. It will be assumed, therefore, in this exposition, that the psalm had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah, and that the friends of revelation are bound to show that in him who claimed to be the Messiah, and to whom it is applied in the New Testament - the Lord Jesus - there is a “fair” fulfillment of the predictions which are contained in it.

The idea in the psalm is that of the exaltation, the conquest, the priesthood, and the dominion of the Messiah. Two things - the kingship and the priesthood of the Messiah - are combined. The leading idea is that of the “priest-king” or the “king-priest,” as in the case of Melchizedek, in whom the two offices of priest and king were in a very unusual manner and form united in one person. Usually they were separate, even in the earliest ages of the world. In the case of Melehizedek they were “combined,” and hence, he was selected as a proper representative of the Messiah - of one who should combine these offices, apparently incongruous, in one.

The psalm embraces the following points:

I. The appointment of the Messiah - acknowledged by the author of the psalm as his “Lord” - to that high office, to be held until he should subdue all his enemies, Psalms 110:1.

II. His being endowed with “power” needful for the accomplishment of the design for which he was appointed, Psalms 110:2.

III. The assurance that his people would be made “willing” in the day when he should put forth his power, Psalms 110:3.

IV. The special characteristic of his reign, as that of a “priest-king,” after the order of Melehizedek; combining the two functions of king and priest in his own person and office, Psalms 110:4.

V. His conquest and triumph, Psalms 110:5-7.

Verse 1

The Lord said unto my Lord - In the Hebrew, “Spake Jehovah to my Lord.” The word יהוה Yahweh is the incommunicable name of God. It is never given to a created being. The other word translated “Lord - אדני 'Adonāy - means one who has rule or authority; one of high rank; one who has dominion; one who is the owner or possessor, etc. This word is applied frequently to a creature. It is applied to kings, princes, rulers, masters. The phrase “my Lord” refers to someone who was superior in rank to the author of the psalm; one whom he could address as his superior. The psalm, therefore, cannot refer to David himself, as if Yahweh had said to him, “Sit thou at my right hand.” Nor was there anyone on earth in the time of David to whom it could be applicable; anyone whom he would call his “Lord” or superior. If, therefore, the psalm was written by David, it must have reference to the Messiah - to one whom he owned as his superior - his Lord - his Sovereign. It cannot refer to God as if he were to have this rule over David, since God himself is referred to as “speaking” to him whom David called his Lord: “Jehovah said unto my Lord.” The reasoning of the Saviour, therefore, in Matthew 22:43-45, was founded on a fair and just interpretation of the psalm, and was so plain and conclusive that the Pharisees did not attempt to reply to it. Matthew 22:46. See the notes at that passage. No other interpretation “can” be given to it, consistently with the proper rules of expounding language, unless it be shown that the psalm was not composed by David, and might, therefore, be applied to someone whom the author would acknowledge as his “Lord.” But there is no evidence of this, and there is no one in the Old Testament history to whom the psalm would be applicable.

Sit thou at my right hand - The position of honor and of rank. Compare the notes at Psalms 16:8. See also Psalms 45:9; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1. The phrase is properly applicable to the Messiah as exalted to the highest place in the universe - the right hand of God.

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool - Until they are entirely subdued under time. See the notes at Matthew 22:44. The enemies here referred to are the enemies of the Messiah considered as King (see Psalms 2:1-12); and the promise here is, that “he must reign until he shall have put all enemies under his feet.” See the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:25.

Verse 2

The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion - The scepter of thy power; that with which thou shalt rule. It will be given to thee by Yahweh; and it will be given to thee, as it were, “out of Zion;” that is, as proceeding from the church, and as derived from that. It will be an appointment connected with the church, and will be “as if” the church had conferred it on thee. The idea is, that the Messiah would receive, as it were, his designation, authority, commission, power from the church. He would spring from it Isaiah 11:1; would act for it; would do what was needful for its good; would wield the power which properly belongs to the church on the earth. Compare the notes at Psalms 2:9.

Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies - Set up thy power over them, and reign in them. This is a commission to set up a kingdom “in the very midst” of those who were his enemies; in the hearts of those who had been and were rebellious. His kingdom is set up not by destroying them, but by “subduing” them so that they become his willing servants. They yield to him, and he rules over them. It is not here a commission to cut them off, but one much more difficult of execution - to make them his friends, and to dispose them to submit to his authority. Mere “power” may crush people; it requires more than that to make rebels willingly submissive, and to dispose them voluntarily to obey.

Verse 3

Thy people - All who are given to thee; all over whom thou art to rule. This verse has been variously translated. The Septuagint renders it, “With thee is the beginning in the day of thy power, in the splendor of thy saints, from the womb, before the light of the morning have I begotten thee.” So the Latin Vulgate. Luther renders it, “After thy victory shall thy people willingly bring an offering to thee, in holy adorning: thy children shall be born to thee as the dew of the morning.” DeWette, “Willingly shall thy people show themselves to thee on the day of the assembling of thy host in holy adorning, as from the womb of the morning, thy youth (vigor) shall be as the dew.” Prof. Alexander, “Thy people (are) free-will offerings in the day of thy power, in holy decorations, from the womb of the dawn, to thee (is) the dew of thy youth.” Every clause of the verse is obscure, though the “general” idea is not difficult to perceive; that, in the day of Messiah’s power, his people would willingly offer themselves to him, in holy robes or adorning, like the glittering dew of the morning; or, in numbers that might be compared with the drops of the morning dew. The essential ideas are:

(1) that he would have a “people;”

(2) that their subjection to him would be a “willing” subjection;

(3) that this would be accomplished by his “power;”

(4) that they would appear before him in great beauty - in robes of holy adorning;

(5) that they would in some way resemble the dew of the morning; and

(6) that to him in thus subduing them there would be the vigor of youth, the ardor of youthful hope.

Shall be willing - literally, “Thy people (are, or shall be) willing-offerings.” The word rendered “willing” - נדבות nedâbôth - is in the plural number; “thy people, ‘willingnesses.’” The singular - נדבה nedâbâh - means voluntariness, spontaneousness: and hence, it comes to mean spontaneously, voluntarily, of a willing mind. It is rendered a “willing offering,” in Exodus 35:29; “free offering,” in Exodus 36:3; “voluntary offering,” in Leviticus 7:16; “free-will offering,” in Leviticus 22:18, Leviticus 22:21, Leviticus 22:23; Leviticus 23:38; Numbers 15:3; Numbers 29:39; Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 23:23; 2 Chronicles 31:14; Ezra 1:4; Ezra 3:5; Ezra 8:28; Psalms 119:108; “willingly,” in 2 Chronicles 35:8; “plentiful,” in Psalms 68:9; “voluntary, and voluntarily,” in Ezekiel 46:12; “freely,” in Hosea 14:4; and “free-offering,” in Amos 4:5. It does not occur elsewhere. The idea is that of “freeness;” of voluntariness; of doing it from choice, doing it of their own will. They did it in the exercise of freedom. There was no compulsion; no constraint. Whatever “power” there was in the case, was to make them “willing,” not to compel them to do a thing “against” their will. That which was done, or that which is here intended to be described as having been done, is evidently the act of devoting themselves to him who is here designated as their Ruler - the Messiah. The allusion may be either

(a) to their devoting themselves to “him” in conversion, or becoming his;

(b) to their devoting themselves to his “service” - as soldiers do in war; or

(c) to their devoting their time, wealth, talents, to him in lives consecrated to him.

“Whatever” there is as the result of his dominion over them is “voluntary” on their part. There is no compulsion in his religion. People are not constrained to do what they are unwilling to do. All the power that is exerted is on the will, disposing people to do what is right, and what is for their own interest. No man is forced to go to heaven against his will; no man is saved from hell against his will; no man makes a sacrifice in religion against his will; no man is compelled to serve the Redeemer in any way against his will. The acts of religion are among the most free that people ever perform; and of all the hosts of the redeemed no one will ever say that the act of his becoming a follower of the Redeemer was not perfectly voluntary. He chose - he “professed” - to be a friend of God, and he never saw the time when he regretted the choice.

In the day of thy power - The power given to the Messiah to accomplish the work of his mission; the power to convert people, and to save the world. Matthew 28:18; Matthew 11:27; John 17:2. This implies

(a) that “power” would be employed in bringing people to submit to him; and

(b) that there would be a fixed time when that power would be put forth.

Still, it is power which is not inconsistent with freedom. It is power exerted in making people “willing,” not in “compelling or forcing” them to submit to him. There “is” a power which may be exerted over the will consistent with liberty, and that is the power which the Messiah employs in bringing people to himself.

In the beauties of holiness - This power will be connected with the beauty of holiness; or, holiness will be manifested when that power is put forth. The object is to “secure” holiness; and there will be beauty in that holiness. The only power put forth in the case is to make people holy; and they will, in their lives and conduct, manifest all the beauty or attractiveness which there is in a holy and pure character. The word rendered “beauty” is in the plural number, and the allusion may be to the raiment of those who are referred to. They would appear in pure garments - in sacerdotal vestments - as priests of God. Compare Leviticus 16:4. The idea may be that they would be a “kingdom of priests,” clad in priestly vestments (Exodus 19:6; compare the notes at 1 Peter 2:5, notes at 1 Peter 2:9), and that they would be adorned with “robes” appropriate to that office. This may refer, however, to their actual, internal holiness, and may mean that they would, when they were subjugated to him, appear as a holy or a righteous people.

From the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth - Margin, more than the womb of the morning, thou shalt have, etc.” The expression here is evidently designed to refer to the source of the dew - the dew of the early dawn - as having its “birth” then, or as seeming to be “born” then. The morn is represented as the “mother” of the dew. The figure is highly poetic and beautiful. The ground of the comparison may be either

(a) that the “beauty of holiness” - the beautiful array of the saints - “is more than” that produced in the womb of the morning; or

(b) that the dew of youth is more beautiful than the dew produced in the morning. As the word “dew,” that on which the comparison must turn, occurs in the last member of the sentence, it is probable that the second of these interpretations is the true one, as indicated in the margin: “More than the womb of the morning (more than the morning produces) thou hast the dew of thy youth.” That is, “as the young morning - the youth of the day - has its beauties in the abundance and luster of the dew-drops, so shall the dew of thy youth be - the beginning of thy glorious day.” May there not be here also an allusion to the multitudes that would be among his “people” - numerous as the dewdrops of the morning, and as beautiful as they - on his going forth to the world with all the beauty of a bright dawn?

The meaning of the whole, I apprehend, is, “Thy reign shall be like the day - a long bright day. Thy coming - the morning of that day - shall be like the early dawn - so fresh, so beautiful, made so lovely by the drops of dew sparkling on every blade of grass. More beautiful by far - more lovely - shall be the beginning of the day of thy reign; - more lovely to the world thy youth - thy appearing - the beginning of thy day.” Thus understood, the verse is a most beautiful poetic description of the bright morning when the Messiah should come; the dawn of that glorious day when he should reign. Compare Isaiah 9:1-3.

Verse 4

The Lord hath sworn - He has confirmed the appointment of the Messiah by a solemn oath, or as by an oath. That is, It is as sure and fixed as if he had taken an oath. Compare Hebrews 6:13. The “time,” so to speak, if the word time can be applied to transactions in a past eternity, was that when he was designated in the divine purpose as Messiah; in the eternal counsels of God. Compare Psalms 2:7.

And will not repent - Will not change his purpose.

Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek - The word rendered “order” here means properly a word, a thing, a matter; hence, a way or manner. The meaning here is, that he would be a priest “after the manner” of Melchizedek; or, such a priest as he was. He would not be of the tribe of Levi; he would not be in the regular line of the priesthood, but he would resemble, in the characteristics of his office, this ancient priest-king, combining in himself the two functions of priest and king; as a priest, standing alone; not deriving his authority from any line of predecessors; and having no successors. See this verse explained at length, in its application to the Messiah, in the notes at Hebrews 5:6 (note), Hebrews 5:10 (note); Hebrews 7:1-3 (note). The passage as it stands here, and as looked at without any reference to the use made of it in the New Testament, would imply these things:

(1) That he who was spoken of would be, in a proper sense, a priest.

(2) that he would have a perpetual or permanent priesthood - “forever.”

(3) that he would not be of the established line of priests in the tribe of Levi, but that his appointment would be unusual and extraordinary.

(4) that the appointment would come directly from God, and would not be “derived” from those who went before him.

(5) that as a priest he would “resemble” Melchizedek, according to the record which was found of Melchizedek in Genesis.

(6) that as Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, so he would be.

(7) that as Melchizedek combined in himself the functions of both priest and king, so these would be found in him.

(8) that as Melchizedek had no successors in office, so he would have none.

How far these things were applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ, and with what propriety the passage might be applied to him, may be seen by examining the Epistle to the Hebrews, Heb. 5–7.

Verse 5

The Lord at thy right hand - See the notes at Psalms 16:8.

Shall strike through kings - The Hebrew word here rendered “shall strike,” - from מחץ mâchats - means “to shake, to agitate”; and then, “to shake in pieces, to dash in pieces, to crush”; and here it has the sense of dashing in pieces, smiting, wounding, crushing. The “kings” referred to are the enemies of God and the Messiah, and the idea is that all would be subdued before him; that he would set up a universal dominion; that none would be able to stand before him; or, that he would reign over all the earth. The “language” is that which is derived from conquests in war; from the subjugation of enemies by force of arms. Compare the notes at Psalms 2:9-12; and the notes at Isaiah 11:4.

In the day of his wrath - Psalms 2:12.

Verse 6

He shall judge among the heathen - Among the “nations.” That is, he shall set up a kingdom, or shall rule over the nations of the earth. He shall come to execute judgment and justice, and shall apportion to people what is due to them. See the notes at Isaiah 11:3-5.

He shall fill the places with the dead bodies - He shall make a great slaughter - indicative of conquest, and of the subjugation of the world to himself. It would be “as if” the bodies of the slain in battle strewed the ground, or filled the valleys of the earth.

He shall wound the heads - The same word is used here that occurs in the previous verse, and that is there rendered “shall strike.” It is the language of “conquest,” as if the world was to be subdued to himself by war.

Over many countries - Margin, “great.” Over vast and extensive regions, carrying his conquests into distant lands. This will be fulfilled only when all the earth shall be subject to the reign of the Messiah. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.

Verse 7

He shall drink of the brook in the way - The design here seems to be to represent the Messiah as a victorious king and conqueror pursuing his enemies. In the previous verse the psalmist had represented him under the image of one engaged in battle, and slaying his enemies with a great slaughter. He here represents him as pursuing those who should escape from the battle, and as pursuing them without fainting or exhaustion. He is like one who finds abundant springs and streams of water in his journeyings; who refreshes himself at those fountains and streams; who, therefore, is not faint and weary. He pursues his foes vigorously and with success.

Therefore shall he lift up the head - Therefore shall he triumph, or be successful. The head falls when we are faint and exhausted, when we are disappointed and are ashamed, when we are conscious of guilt. It is lifted up in conscious rectitude, in success and triumph, in the exuberance of hope. The idea here is, that the Messiah would be triumphant. He would achieve the victory over all his foes; he would pursue, without exhaustion, his flying enemies, and he would return from the conquest joyous, exulting, triumphant. All this is under the image of a victorious hero; all this will be accomplished in the conquest of the world by the Gospel; in the subduing of the foes of God; in the final scene when the Redeemer shall deliver up the kingdom to God. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 110". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.