Psalm 110 – A Jewish Perspective
In an attempt to prove the Divinity of the Messiah, Christians misquote Psalm 110:1 as, “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies thy footstool,” and verse 4 stating, “You are a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.”
Christians assert that this passage proves the plurality of God and that David is attributing qualities to Jesus that he would not attribute to himself. Namely that Jesus is part of a Trinitarian godhead and also the Messiah who replaces the sacrificial system of atonement making intercession forever in a more perfect way than the Levitical priesthood. This latter claim is stated in Hebrews 7:11-28.1
However, a careful examination will clearly demonstrate that their claims are erroneously mistaken.
Let’s begin by examining the first verse, “The LORD said to my Lord.” The New Testament quotes this verse at least four times (Matthew 22:42-45, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44, Acts 2:34-36) each time rendering Psalms 110:1 as,
“The LORD said to my Lord,”
Based on a Greek translation and in English by merely capitalizing the letter “L” in the second use of the word “Lord” they intentionally make it appear as if God (LORD) is speaking to someone who is also Divine and also referred to as (Lord).
This form of proof-text logic is a classic example of shooting an arrow and then drawing a circle around it to get it in a bull’s-eye.
They do this by mistranslating the original Hebrew.
In this passage the first word (LORD) in Hebrew is the four-letter (yud-hai-vav-hai) sacred name of G-d. However the second (Lord) is a completely different word spelled (aleph-dalet-nun-yud). Although this letter combination of letters can spell a name of God, there is no example in Tanach where this particular form (prefixed by the Hebrew letter “lamed- ל” which mean “to,”) is used to mean “to my God.”
This “Lord” (in blue) which is not entirely capitalized above is the Hebrew word “adoni,”(pronounced adonee), with a “chirik” vowel under the letter yud. It means “to my master” or “to my lord” with a lower case “L” like the “lord of the manor.”
In modern Hebrew, it is used like the English word “sir” or “master.” The phrase “slicha adonee” means “excuse me sir.” Based on this mistranslation many Christian English New Testaments intentionally capitalize the letter “L” to promote their opinion that this word is Divine. In English the word “Lord” and “lord” may be pronounced the same but one is Divine and the other is not.
In Hebrew it is not uncommon to have a word that can either Divine or human depending on the context. An excellent example is the Hebrew “Elohim” that can mean either a human judge or God. For example:
“In the beginning God (Elohim) created” Genesis 1:1
“Then his master shall bring him to the judges (elohim) Exodus 21:6
The first example refers to God the second to human judges. This word is also used to refer to idols.
It is important to note that there are Christian translations like the Oxford Study Edition that recognize the mistake in Psalm 110 and correctly translated it as “The Lord said to my lord” with a lower case “L.”
In Biblical Hebrew the Tanach uses the word ‘adoni’ more than 130 times. In every instance it means a “master” or “lord,” and refers to a human being. In addition to Psalm 110:1 the word “To my master” (L’adoni) appear 20 times and always refers to a human being. Here are some examples.
“Hear us my lord (Abraham)” Genesis 23 v.6
“Sarah bore a son to my master (Abraham)” Genesis 24:36
“You shall say to my lord, to Esav” Genesis 32:5
“What can we say to my lord (Joseph)” Gen. 44:16
“I love my master (a slave owner)” Exodus 21:5
“Let not the anger of my lord (Moshe) burn” Ex. 32:22
“to do this thing to my lord” (David)” 1 Samuel 24:7
Now that it is clear that the Hebrew says “The Lord said to my master (lord)” it is important to understand who is speaking to whom.
Although the Psalms were composed by King David they were often written in the third person about himself. For example:
“He who releases David, His servant” Psalm 144:10
This point is also substantiated by the fact that in Hebrew this Psalm starts “L’David Mizmor” which means “A psalm of David.” L’David literally means “to David” or concerning him, it does not simply mean “composed by David.” This is similar to “L’Shlomo” meaning “for Solomon” in Psalm 72:1. This indicates that David was writing Psalm 110 about himself.
Although King David was not allowed to build the Temple he did everything he could to prepare the way for it to be built, and among the things he did was compile the book of Psalms to be sung by the Levites in the Temple, as it says;
“Then on that day David first delivered the psalm into the hands of Asaf and his brethren” 1 Chronicles 16:7
“For the chief musician a psalm for David” Psalm 20:1
“And David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren the singers with instruments of music’ l Chronicles 15:16
Psalm 110 was composed in the third person to be sung by the Levites, and thus reflects their point of view, for they would call their king “my master – adoni.” In other words, the Levites are saying that “God spoke to our master (King David). Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
It was composed at the beginning of David’s reign. When the Philistines heard that Israel had anointed David as king, they came to fight with him, David talks about his reassurance from G-d that He would fight with the Jews against their enemies. As it says:
“He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and did cleave to his sword and the Lord wrought a great victory that day.”(2 Samuel 23 v.l0)
Sitting at God’s right hand as stated in the beginning of Psalm 110, symbolized God’s victorious protection, as written:
“Thy right hand has supported me” Psalm 18:36
“Thy right hand Oh Lord, is glorious in power” Exodus 13:6
“The right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiant.” Psalm 118:16
The privilege of sitting at the right hand is also a mark of distinction.
“And (Solomon) placed a chair for the king’s mother and she sat to his right”1 Kings 2:19
When God invites David to “sit at My right hand,” it is to show the protection given by God and the privileged position enjoyed by David in his relationship with God. It is not to be taken as literally indicating sitting at God’s right hand. The terminology “right hand” is here used as an expression of God’s protection and favoritism toward David.
Now we will understand that this Psalm is speaking about King David we are left with several questions.
• What does it mean that he will be “a priest (Kohen) forever after the manner of Melchizedek?”
• Who was Melchizedek?
• What kind of priest was he?
• How could David be referred to as a “Kohen”(who originate from the tribe of Levy) when he was from the tribe of Judah?
• How was David like Melchizedek?
A priest after the manner of Melchizedek does not refer to Jesus taking over the Levitical priesthood forever.2
This statement also refers to King David.
Melchizedek was non-Jewish a King who lived during the times of Abraham as it says:
“And Melchizedek King of Salem brought forth bread and wine and he was a priest (Kohen) of G-d the most high” Genesis 14:18
Even thought he was not Jewish and could not be from the tribe of Levy, he is called a priest (Kohen) because of his position of service. Similarly, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) was called a “priest (Kohen) of Midian.” Exodus 18:1
Melchizedek was called the “King of Salem” This mean that he was a king of Jerusalem. In Hebrew the word Jerusalem (Yerushaliem) is made up of the words ‘yereh’ and ‘salem.
“Abraham called this place ‘Hashem Yereh’ (God sees) Genesis 22:l4
The word Salem refers to Jerusalem, as it says:
“In Salem is his tabernacle (Temple)”Psalm 76:3
Additionally, the name Melchizedek comes from two Hebrew words, ‘melech’ which means king, and ‘zedek’ which means righteousness. This means a king over a place known for its righteousness.
Jerusalem is referred to as the city that reflects God’s righteousness as it is stated:
“Jerusalem will dwell in security and this is what she (Jerusalem) will be called ‘God is our righteousness.’” Jeremiah 33:16
Melchizedek, a generic title conferred of kings who rule over Jerusalem. In the same way, all kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh, Kings of Philistine were referred as Abimelech and Kings of Persia were given the title Achasverous.
So too, kings with the name ‘zedek’ as part of their title were human kings of Jerusalem as in:
“Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem” Joshua 10:l
Notice that the first part of this king’s name is the word “adoni” which we have pointed out mean “lord” or “master.”
Additionally, David ruled with righteousness as it says:
“David reigned over all of Israel. David administered justice and righteousness to all his people” 2 Samuel 8:15
Just as Melchizedek was king of Jerusalem so was David.
David was also promised that he would be a “priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” How could he be called a (Kohen) priest?
As noted above, the term priest is not exclusively used to refer to priest “Kohanin” who originated from the tribe of Levy.
In the Tanach the title Cohen is also used to refer to individuals dedicated to minister a specific service. They didn’t have to be literally a Kohen-priest but were dedicated to a specific service just like a priest.
We see specifically that David’s sons were referred to as “priests -Kohaim” as in:
“the sons of David were ministers (Kohanim) of state” 2 Samuel 8:18
Therefore, the term priest as in “priest of G-d, the most high” in Psalm 110:14 can also refer to a leader.
That David would be a “priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” means that the privilege of being ruler of Jerusalem would always remain to David and his descendants forever.
“To David and his offspring, forever” Psalm 18:51
The entire psalm speaks in the third person of King David and his relationship with G-d. He was literally a Melchizedek “king of righteousness” King of Jerusalem.
1 That the Messiah would be destined to replace the Levitical priesthood is a non-biblical concept and unnecessary when the concepts of the sacrificial system, prayer and repentance are understood correctly
2 The bible gives no indication that Melchizedek’s position as a “Priest” involved any service that involved the forgiveness of sin.
Written and compiled by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz © 2005 Jews for Judaism