Psalm 110 in Historical Context

Alexander Maclaren’s The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms

Part 3 of 5

At first, Psalm 110 might not seem to offer any clues about when it was written. Yet when Alexander Maclaren sought to put the Psalms of David into chronological order, he was confident about where to put this one.

For Maclaren, there was a major event in the life of David that gives this psalm its historical context. It followed after some other big events, but it was bigger.

David had recently become king of all Israel. The ark of God had been brought into Jerusalem. These were big events, but the bigger one was a prophecy that Nathan gave to David.

The prophecy was about David’s son Solomon, but it also addressed the distant future.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”  (2 Samuel 7:16, ESV)

This gave mankind new information about God’s plan to restore the universe. It was a big step forward in the progressive revelation about the coming Christ.

Maclaren describes its importance:

“…from that time onwards a new element had been added to his hopes, and a new object presented to his faith. The prophecy of the Messiah enters upon a new stage, bearing a relation, as its successive stages, always unmistakably did, to the history which supplies a framework for it. Now for the first time can he be set forth as the king of Israel; now the width of the promise which at first had embraced the seed of the woman, and then had been narrowed to the seed of Abraham, and thereafter probably to the tribe of Judah, is still further defined as to be fulfilled in the line of the house of David; now the personal Messiah Himself begins to be discerned through the words which are to have a preparatory fulfilment, in itself prophetic, in the collective Davidic monarchs whose very office is itself also a prophecy.”

According to Maclaren, this changed the way David prohesied:

“Many echoes of this new message ring through the later psalms of the king. His own dominion, his conquests, and his office, gradually became to himself a solemn prophecy of a mysterious descendant who should be really and fully all that he was in shadow and in part.”

Psalm 110 is the Psalm that mentions Melchizedek. Melchizedek was king of Salem (Genesis 14:18). If this is the same city that later become Jerusalem, it makes sense that David would have had this ancient figure on his mind. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, and David had just brought the ark into Jerusalem dressed as a priest:

“…Zion being named as the seat of Messiah’s sovereignty and in the reference to Melchizedek, both of which points assume new force if we suppose that the ancient city over which that half-forgotten name once ruled had recently become his own. Possibly, too, his joy in exchanging his armour and kingly robe for the priest’s ephod, when he brought up the ark to its rest, and his consciousness that in himself the regal and the sacerdotal offices did not blend, may have led him to meditations on the meaning of both, on the miseries that seemed to flow equally from their separation and from their union, which were the precursors of his hearing the Divine oath that, in the far-off future, they would be fused together in that mighty figure who was to repeat in higher fashion the union of functions which invested that dim King of Righteousness and Priest of God in the far-off past.”

Psalm 110 (ESV)

A Psalm of David

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

A Biography Written in Prayer

Alexander Maclaren’s The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms


Psalms 19 and 8 – David’s Early Works?

Psalm 22 – David Grows as a Prophet

Psalm 110 in Historical Context

Psalms 41, 39, and 55 – A Sick and Weary King Observes the Gathering Storm

Psalms 3, 4, and 63 – How David Got His Kingdom Back