The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 110, a royal song extolling the Davidic king.
The passage we use today contains two divine oracles, mostly spoken by a court prophet but intended for the king. The first is a directive, the second is a promise.
The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”
The confusion of the English translation “The LORD said to my Lord,” is resolved if we realize that the first LORD is a rendering of the divine name (YHWH), while the second is a translation of the Hebrew for “master” (’ădōnî).
God directs the human king to sit at God’s own right hand, the place of honor. This reveals that God is the real king; the earthly kingship is only delegated. Further, it is God who enthrones the human king, subjugating his enemies as a footstool under his feet.
Subjugation of enemies in this way is a common theme in ancient Near Eastern art, portraying victorious kings with their feet on the prostrate bodies of their enemies. Although the text doesn’t explicitly state that God actually vanquished the enemies, it is God who in this passage grants the king every other honor, so one can assume the defeat of the enemies was at God’s hand as well.
The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion: “Rule in the midst of your enemies.”
The king is endowed with a scepter. This symbol of royal rule was probably originally a mace, a military weapon wielded in defense or attack. Now it is stretched forth as a sign of dominion.
The divine words that accompany the action indicate the king’s authority and power, even in the midst of enemies.
The place from which this rule proceeds is Zion, the mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem was built. The mountain and the city represent the essence of Davidic rule.
“Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.”
The day of the birth of the king is not the day of his physical birth but the day of his enthronement. That is when he enters into a unique and intimate relationship with God.
In some ancient cultures, the king was adopted as the son of the god on the day of enthronement (e.g. “You are my son, today have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7)). Israel retained the idea of a special relationship with God but insisted that the king was still a human, bound by the law as was every other Israelite (2 Samuel 7:14).
Daystar and dew symbolize the freshness of this new royal birth. The enthronement of a new king with divine responsibilities was always a time of great hope.
The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Finally, by divine oath the Davidic king is granted the priestly status that belonged to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. It is believed that when David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, he appropriated for his own God much of the religious tradition and many of the customs associated with that shrine.
At his enthronement, each successor of David assumed the privileges, and perhaps some of the practices, that belonged to the office of that priest-king. Promised by God, these privileges would be the right of any legitimate descendant of David.