Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 110

A question of authority

In David’s day, as today, people certain they knew better than God militantly opposed his plan for his world. So God promised to make his Messiah a royal priest, that being vital to his success.

A David psalm.

YHWH’s word to my master was this:
“Sit enthroned at my right hand
while I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 YHWH will extend
your powerful scepter from Zion.
Now, subdue your enemies on every side!
3 Your people will freely 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 YHWH has sworn
an oath he’ll never revoke:
“You are a priest forever
in Melchizedek’s line.”
5 God is on your right
decimating rebel kings
on the day when he vents his anger.
6 He brings the nations to justice:
stacking corpses up everywhere
he crushes heads the world over.
7 Then drinking from a brook along the way
he stands, head held high.

David writes about his descendant, the one the prophet Nathan had promised would reign forever. By placing this psalm in Book V, the Psalms compiler clearly assures post-exilic Jews that Nathan’s prophecy would yet be fulfilled in David’s greater son, even though Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought David’s dynasty to an end.

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

Second, while Israel’s kings weren’t typically priest-kings, like Canaan’s kings were, God installs this king as priest forever, connecting him with Melchizedek. Since Melchizedek served as Abram’s priest, his priestly order predates that of Aaron. With God fighting beside him, he experiences total victory, terminating the endless seesaw between Israel’s kings and their neighbors who opposed God’s claims on them and the earth. In fact, so complete is this king’s victory that he enjoys sweet refreshment afterward.

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 also 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. Only thus are we clothed in holy, Christlike armor. Only thus do we triumph as he did.

Jesus, as priest, you opened the door to God for all who came to you—prostitutes, lepers, quislings. You were crucified not for mouthing pious platitudes, but for challenging all who resisted your holy grace. And yet you triumphed! Empower me, Lord, to triumph as I follow your gracious lead. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

YHWH has sworn
an oath he’ll never revoke:
“You are a priest forever
in Melchizedek’s line.”

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH 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. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.