110 111 112 113 114 115
The Messiah: king and priest
Of David, psalm.
Yahweh’s oracle to You, my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
and I will make Your enemies a footstool for You.’
Yahweh will force all Your enemies
under the sway of Your sceptre in Zion.
Royal dignity was Yours
from the day You were born, on the holy mountains,
royal from the womb, from the dawn of Your earliest days.
Yahweh has sworn an oath which He will never retract,
‘You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.’
The Lord is at Your right hand.
When He grows angry He shatters kings,
He gives the nations their deserts.
Smashing their skulls,
He heaps the wide world with corpses.
Drinking from the stream as He goes,
He can hold His head high in victory.
I had a friend once, yes, he was my best friend in those years, with whom I read Greek and Hebrew, with whom I prayed daily, and with whom went forth two by two in indivisible witness. I also shared with him the praying of the Psalms on thirty day cycle, and the special place of the psalms prayed on the day of one’s birth. His birthday was the twenty-third day, and so opened with Psalm 110, quoted above.
His was a very martial soul, a militant, even belligerent one. He had achieved mastery in one of the martial arts and it was wonderful to see him practice them. I shared with him my belief that the psalms being prayed the day of one’s birth can be oracles of one’s nature. Perhaps this isn’t or can’t be for everyone, but for me, and maybe for him, this seemed to be true. I knew he relished the 110th psalm.
And I did as well, at the time, but maybe for other reasons, maybe because I loved my friend and saw how the energy in a psalm like this was what the Lord used to feed him with, otherwise a soul mighty but often defeated and demoralized in spite of his great gifts. All of us need some encouragement to help us find and express our true natures, what God created us to be. That’s why I try to encourage.
But I can see how the reader and the prayer of the Psalms, coming upon this 110th psalm might feel confused, especially the modern reader, particularly the Christian. There is a lot in the Old Testament that speaks of violence and attributes it to God. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is a terrible God—terrible, meaning, able and willing to inflict terror on those who oppose Him. Yet, He also shows mercy.
But only to those who repent and promise to follow Him and fulfill His commandments unswervingly, but who can do that? The pious Jew nearly breaks himself in two as he davens with unrestrained devotion in expiation of his sins, yet even he knows he must ultimately depend on the mercy of his terrible God. The Christian starts out believing he is unfit, unwell and incapable of any good without it.
Regardless of differing Messiology and Christology, the Jew and Christian both have to return to the God they find written up in the Old Testament and, depending on the theology they have accepted, meet either a reasonably or unreasonably angry God, who will save them, but only on the harshest terms. Here, though, the Christian believes in a Christ different from the Jew’s Messiah, as different as can be.
The Christ of the Christians, affirming the national God of Israel, Yahweh, whom we find ‘smashing their skulls… [heaping] the wide world with corpses, [and] drinking from the stream as He goes,’ also ‘can hold His head high in victory,’ though differently than the Jew imagines. Our Christ’s head was held high in victory when it was crowned with thorns, and He enthroned by being bound and nailed to the Cross.
A frightful victory, but no less terrible, actually, than that described in this prophetic 110th psalm ‘of David,’ the same ancient shepherd king who foresaw the other side of the same saving act of Yahweh and sang of it in the 22nd psalm. It’s difficult for us to read two psalms so outwardly different and equate them, just as it’s only by supernatural trust—faith—that we proclaim ‘Christ conquers’ from the Cross.
No wonder Marcion of Sinope, a contemporary of the earliest Church fathers, rejected the whole of the Hebrew canon of scriptures, seeing in Yahweh the Terrible a different God than the loving, heavenly Father taught and demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth. We all have read His words, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!’ (John 14:9). Hearing that, what are we to do with this 110th psalm?
‘Will the real God stand up,’ we want to say, that is, if we really want to know who He is at all, and at all costs, because the angry God of fundamentalist believers of all faiths just might be that real God. Even if we are Christians and have heard and accepted Christ’s word that to see Him, to see what He does and hear what He says in the holy gospels, is to see the Father, we are unsure because we don’t really trust.
Don’t really trust whom or what? We don’t really trust our consciences. We are afraid to appear presumptuous, so we let ourselves slip through the pews at the end of divine services and escape into the world we have made and in which we feel sufficiently buffered from the wrath of the angry God we have made up. That we have made up? Well, yes, because our consciences tell us of the real God.
Yet we don’t listen. We insist, without acknowledging it in so many words, that we are far better than the God we say we believe in, the one who gets angry at us for the slightest sin, and whom we must cajole back into favor, ours not His, by multiplying our expensive sacrifices and ceremonies. You know, the ones He says in the holy scriptures that He doesn’t really want, but we give Him anyway, just to be sure.
Our conscience tells us that if it would be wrong for one of us to eternally punish and torment another soul for infidelity, or even to be constantly angry at someone just because he is what he is, then if there is a God (and we cannot escape the fact that He is), that God would be at least as merciful as we think we are, that He would have some other plan for the redemption than the one we’ve somehow made up.
But by fear the voice of our conscience is silenced. The written word of God cancels out the unwritten Word who is actually behind it all, who lives in our conscience and who was always there, waiting for us to realize it. We take the written word of God, the holy scriptures, as the final authority, even though they are only the testimony of our ascent from primordial clay to eternal spirit, guided by the Spirit.
Looking again at the 110th psalm, having read and prayed it so many times, year after year, I have grown quite accustomed to it. When I first read it, it touched me, it taught me, differently than it does today. The Message was always there, as fully revealed to my emerging faith at each stage as I was capable of. Its truth in me keeps growing, as I keep growing in Christ, as He stands beside Me, to save me.
Now, I see vast vistas. I experience the height, length, and breadth of His mercy. I wonder at His incredible patience, longsuffering, and love which overturns kings, especially the false king of myself, so that He can install the true King in me, in my brothers and sisters, and finally, in the world. ‘Royal from the womb,’ His Father’s acclamation of the Son, yes, even that, He shares with those He crowns.
Yes, the King is coming to make His people kings. The eternal High-Priest is at our door, about to take us into the Holy of Holies, even Mount Zion where everyone is a firstborn child and citizen of heaven. The flash of Fire that flamed from Sinai’s bush without consuming is, the unwaning Light that radiates from the Tomb of Christ is, the Light that enlightens all men. Yes, and ‘He can hold His head high in victory.’