Psalm 110 is the 110th psalm of the Book of Psalms, generally known in English by its first verse, in the King James Version, "The said unto my Lord". In the Greek Septuagint version of the bible, and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 109 in a slightly different numbering system. In Latin, it is known as "Dixit Dominus". It is considered both a royal psalm and a messianic psalm. This psalm is a cornerstone in Christian theology, as it is cited as proof of the plurality of the Godhead and Jesus' supremacy as king, priest, and Messiah. For this reason, Psalm 110 is "the most frequently quoted or referenced psalm in the New Testament". Classical Jewish sources, in contrast, state that the subject of the psalm is either Abraham, David, or the Jewish Messiah.
The psalm is a regular part of Jewish, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant liturgies. Because this psalm is prominent in the Office of Vespers, its Latin text has particular significance in music. Well-known vespers settings are Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610), and Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore (1780). Handel composed Dixit Dominus in 1707, and Vivaldi set the psalm in Latin three times.
BackgroundThe psalm is usually dated in its first part in the pre-exilic period of Israel, sometimes even completely in the oldest monarchy.
JudaismThe Talmud (Nedarim 32a) and Midrash Tehillim state that this psalm speaks about Abraham, who was victorious in battle to save his brother-in-law Lot and merited priesthood. According to Avot of Rabbi Natan (34:6) the psalm is speaking of the Jewish Messiah in the context of the Four Craftsmen in Zechariah's vision. Rashi, Gershonides, and Rabbi David Kimhi identify the subject of the psalm as David.
ChristianityAccording to Henry, this psalm is "pure gospel" and specifically refers to Jesus as the Messiah. Spurgeon concurs that while David composed the psalm, the psalm is solely about Jesus.
AdonaiThe difference in interpretation between Jewish and Christian sources pivots on the translation of the Hebrew word אדני (Adonai) in verse 1. This is usually translated as "my master" or "my lord", thus rendering the verse as "The Lord spoke to my master". While Adonai is one of the names of God, throughout the Tanakh it refers to a human "master" or "lord". Since David wrote this psalm in the third person, to be sung by the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Levites would be saying that "the Lord spoke to my master"—i.e. to David. .
However, the King James Version and many subsequent Christian translations capitalize the second word "Lord", intending that it refers to Jesus. As the is speaking to another Lord, Henry postulates that "two distinct divine Persons…are involved"—namely, God and Jesus. Henry further claims that in this psalm, David is acknowledging Christ's sovereignty and his (David's) subservience to him. Jesus himself quoted this verse during his trial before the Sanhedrin (), referring to himself, and states that this verse was fulfilled in the ascension and exaltation of Christ.
A second point on which Jewish and Christian interpretations differ is the language in verse 4, which describes a person who combines the offices of kingship and priesthood, as exemplified by the non-Jewish king Melchizedek. Ostensibly, this could not apply to King David, who was not a kohen (priest). However, Rashi explains here that the term kohen occasionally refers to a ministerial role, as in (II Sam. 8:18), "and David's sons were kohanim (ministers of state)". Gershonides and Rabbi David Kimhi further state that the term kohen could be applied to a "chief ruler". Thus, the prophetic promise, "You will be a priest forever", can be translated as "You will be a head and prince of Israel", referring to David.
Spurgeon rejects this interpretation, stating that in ancient Israel, no one held the offices of king and priest simultaneously. However, that title can be given to Jesus, "the apostle and high priest of our profession". The psalm is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to justify the award of the title "High Priest" to Jesus from Scripture. Henry notes: "Melchizedek was 'a priest upon his throne' (Zech. 6:13), so is Christ, king of righteousness and king of peace. Melchizedek had no successor, nor has Christ; his is an unchangeable priesthood".
Hebrew Bible versionFollowing is the Hebrew text of Psalm 110:
King James Version# The said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. # The shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. # Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. # The hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. # The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. # He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. # He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
JudaismVerses 6-7 are the final two verses of Av HaRachamim, said during the Shabbat and Yom Tov morning service.
Psalm 110 is recited on Shabbat Lech-Lecha in the Siddur Avodas Yisroel.
This psalm is recited as a prayer of protection to achieve peace with enemies.
ProtestantismOliver Cromwell reportedly had his army sing this psalm before going out to battle against Scotland; it was his "favorite fighting song". This led to Psalm 110 becoming known as "the cursing psalm".
CatholicismIn his Rule (530), Saint Benedict of Nursia designated psalms 109 to 147 for vespers, except those psalms reserved for other hours. Therefore, from the early Middle Ages, Psalm 110 (109 in the Septuagint numbering, beginning in Latin Dixit Dominus) has traditionally been recited at the beginning of vespers on every Sunday. It continues to be the first psalm at vespers on Sundays, solemnities and celebrations with the rank of "feast".
Verses 1 to 4 form the responsorial psalm that follows the first reading on the solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the third year of the three-year cycle of readings.
Musical settingsBecause this Psalm is the first in the Office of Sunday Vespers, its Latin text, which begins with Dixit Dominus, has particular significance in music. It was set by Tomás Luis de Victoria in 1581, among many other 16th century composers. Claudio Monteverdi composed a choral setting in his Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610 and again in his Selva morale e spirituale in 1640. Marc-Antoine Charpentier set 6 Dixit Dominus H 153, H 197, H 202, H 204, H 190, H 226 in (1670 - 1690), and Alessandro Scarlatti in 1700. George Frideric Handel wrote Dixit Dominus in 1707, his earliest surviving autograph. Nicola Porpora set the psalm in 1720, and Antonio Vivaldi wrote three settings. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi set the psalm in 1732, and Leonardo Leo in both 1741 and 1742. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart set the psalm for choir and orchestra in his vespers, Vesperae solennes de Dominica (1779) and Vesperae solennes de confessore (1780). Michel Richard Delalande and Michael Haydn composed setting in the 18th century.
Heinrich Schütz set the psalm in German twice, "Der Herr sprach zu meinem Herren", in 1619 as the first movement of his Psalmen Davids for voices and instruments (SVW 22), and for choir as part of his setting of the Becker Psalter (SWV 208). In 1959, Richard Rodgers composed a partial setting of the psalm for the opening sequence of his musical The Sound of Music, using verses 1, 5, and 7.