Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
 Compare Driver, Lit. of O.T. p. 384; Orelli, O.T. Prophecy, pp. 153 ff.; Gore, Bampton Lectures, pp. 196 ff., 270; Gifford, The Authorship of the CXth Psalm; Sharpe, Psalm CX; Baudissin, A. T. Priesterthum, p. 259 f.
This brief but weighty Psalm—brevis numero verborum, magnus pondere scntentiarum, as it is called by St Augustine—is addressed to one whom the Psalmist styles my lord. He speaks in the language (Psalm 110:1) and with the authority (Psalm 110:4) of a prophet. He has received a Divine revelation concerning his lord, which he communicates to him for his encouragement in the work that lies before him. Jehovah has chosen him to share His throne. He purposes by His own power to subdue all his enemies. Zion is the seat of his kingdom. Zion is the centre from which goes forth his victorious might. There he is to rule, unmoved by the menaces of surrounding enemies. When he musters his people for battle, countless hosts of youthful warriors flock eagerly to his standard, animated by a spirit of loyal devotion and willing self-sacrifice (Psalm 110:1-3).
The king,—for though he is not expressly so called, it is implied that he is a king,—is also a priest: not a hereditary priest of the line of Aaron, but a priest by a special Divine appointment, whose priesthood resembles that of Melchizedek. In him the primeval unity of royalty and priesthood, seen in the ancient priest-king of Salem, reappears (Psalm 110:4).
The scene changes to the battle-field. When this king goes forth to war, Jehovah goes with him. He stands at his right hand as his champion, executing judgement upon the nations, destroying his adversaries far and wide. The Psalm closes with a picture of the king halting for a moment to refresh himself as he pursues his foes, and then pressing on with fresh vigour to complete his triumph (Psalm 110:5-7).
To whom does the Psalm refer? To some historical king, or to the future Messiah? If it could be considered by itself, apart from the New Testament use of it, we should have little hesitation in regarding it as addressed by some prophet to the reigning king, like Psalms 20, 21, 45. Lofty as is its language, it does not go beyond that of Psalms 2, 72, which we have seen reason to think have a primary historical reference. It introduces a new idea, the priesthood of the king, but all its language can be explained from the peculiar position and significance of the theocratic king, as the earthly representative of Jehovah. He was the embodiment. for the time, of God’s purpose to establish His kingdom on earth, and therefore prophets and psalmists were taught to speak of him in terms far exceeding the personal significance of any particular king, in words which were to be fulfilled after the lapse of ages with a larger, spiritual meaning.
It has however been very commonly maintained that the reference which our Lord made to this Psalm must, for the Christian student, determine its authorship and interpretation. Many who in every other case regard Messianic Psalms as having a primary historical meaning, feel that here our Lord’s authority compels them to hold that this Psalm was written by David, and was addressed by him to the future Messiah, who, he believed, would spring from his family. It is therefore necessary carefully to examine the precise nature of our Lord’s reference to the Psalm.
Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Scribes, had been questioning Jesus, with the object of ensnaring Him in His talk. When they had been silenced by the wisdom of His answers, so that “no man durst ask him any question,” He proceeded to question His questioners. “How say the scribes that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord said unto my Lord,
Sit thou on my right hand,
Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.
David himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he his son?” (Mark 12:35 ff.). St Luke’s account (Luke 20:41 ff.) is substantially the same. St Matthew’s account (Matthew 22:41 ff.) differs somewhat in detail, and brings out more clearly the point, that the words are rather a question and a challenge than an assertion and an argument.
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,
The Lord said unto my Lord,
Sit thou on my right hand,
Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet?
If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? And no one was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”
The question assumes (1) that the Psalm was written by David, (2) that it was inspired, and (3) that it directly refers to the Messiah. The inability of the Pharisees to answer shews that these premisses were unhesitatingly admitted. If they could have replied that the Psalm was not written by David, or that it was not inspired, or that it did not refer to the Messiah, they would have had an answer ready to hand. But evidently it did not occur to them that any one of these points could be disputed. David was unquestioningly regarded as the author, if not of the whole Psalter, at least of the Psalms which bore his name; the Hagiographa, if not placed on the same level of inspiration as the Law and the Prophets, were yet held to have been written by inspiration (ברוח הקדש = ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ); the Psalm, it must be inferred, was commonly understood to refer to the Messiah.
But in assuming these premisses for the purpose of His question, does our Lord stamp them with the sanction of His authority? It has been very truly pointed out that one of His methods of teaching was “to ask men questions such as would lead them to cross-examine themselves closely in the light of their own principles.” It seems neither unreasonable nor irreverent to suppose that He was doing so in this instance. Taking His opponents upon their own ground, He desired to arouse their consciences to confess that if only they followed out their own beliefs to their legitimate conclusions, they must look for a Messiah who was more than a mere human descendant of David, and therefore they ought not to be scandalised at His claims. But it does not follow that He meant to endorse the correctness of those beliefs in their entirety. He accepts, for example, their reference of the Psalm to the Messiah. But could He have accepted the Messianic idea which they derived from it? We have no precise information as to the contemporary interpretation of it, but it could hardly fail to have been regarded as supporting the popular conception of the Messiah as a conquering king, who was to expel the Romans, and reign triumphantly in Zion. To such an interpretation He could not have meant to lend the sanction of His authority. But it was not necessary for him to correct it at the moment. So too with the question of authorship. He was not pronouncing a judgement in criticism. The very notion of criticism at that time was unknown. Tradition held absolute sway. Criticism would have been an anachronism and an impossibility. For His present purpose of stimulating reflection He could accept without correction or inquiry the tradition which was universally current. The Psalm was Messianic; the language of it, viewed in the light of history, pointed to the Messiah as One greater than David. The conclusion which the Pharisees ought to have drawn from their own premisses, had they been honest with themselves, was a true one, even if those premisses were not, from a literary and historical point of view, exact.
 Gore, Bampton Lectures, p. 198.
It would be out of place here to enter upon any discussion of the mysterious question of the limitations of our Lord’s knowledge in His life on earth. But it is undoubtedly “easier to conceive of our Lord using this sort of argument, if we accept the position that He, the very God, habitually spoke in His incarnate life on earth, under the limitations of a properly human consciousness.”
 Gore, p. 198. Cp. the important notes on p. 270. See also Sanday, Bampton Lectures, p. 419 f., on the “neutral zone among our Lord’s sayings,” i.e. “sayings in which He takes up ideas and expressions current at the time and uses without really endorsing them.”
If then it may be maintained that, in the words of Bishop Thirlwall as given by Bishop Perowne, “we are left very much in the same position with regard to the Psalm as if our Lord had not asked these questions about it,” it will not be necessary to isolate it from the other royal Messianic Psalms, which refer in the first instance to the circumstances of the time. The most natural and obvious view will be that it was not addressed by David himself to the Messiah, but by some prophet to David, or to some later king or prince.
Its date and occasion have been much disputed. (1) By some it has been supposed to refer to one of the Maccabees, who were at once priests and princes. Most plausible are the suggestions that it was addressed to Jonathan or Simon. Jonathan was chosen “prince and leader” after the death of Judas, and “took the governance upon him, and rose up in the stead of his brother Judas” (1Ma 9:30-31). Subsequently he was appointed high priest by Alexander Balas (c. b.c. 153), who also “sent him a purple robe, and a crown of gold” (1Ma 10:20). Of Simon, who succeeded Jonathan, expelled the Syrians from the Acra, and secured the independence of the Jews (b.c. 142), it is recorded that “the people made him their leader and high priest” … and “king Demetrius [2, Nicator] confirmed to him the high priesthood” … and “the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet” (1Ma 14:35; 1Ma 14:38; 1Ma 14:41).
 A confirmation of the view that the Psalm was addressed to Simon has been found in the fact observed by the Rev. G. Margoliouth, Academy, 1892, p. 182, and independently by Prof. Bickell, that the initial letters of the clause Sit thou &c. and the three following verses spell the name Simon (שׁמען). But this appears to be a mere accidental coincidence. Acrostics giving the name of the poet or of the person celebrated in the poem appear to have been a comparatively late invention. No tradition of their occurrence in the O.T. has survived.
There are however at least two considerations which are fatal to the hypothesis of a Maccabaean origin for this Psalm. (a) The Maccabees were first priests and then princes. But the Psalm refers to a prince upon whom is conferred the dignity of a peculiar priesthood, distinct apparently from the hereditary priesthood of the descendants of Aaron. (b) The very terms in which Simon’s election is recorded, “until there should arise a faithful prophet,” testify to the fact that the Maccabaean age was sadly conscious that the voice of prophecy was silent (cp. 1Ma 4:46; 1Ma 9:27). How then could a Maccabaean poet presume to speak, as the author of this Psalm does, in the language (Psalm 110:1) and with the authority (Psalm 110:4) of prophecy? To these considerations it may be added that it is difficult to suppose that the action of heathen princes in the appointment of Jonathan and the confirmation of Simon could be spoken of in the lofty language of this Psalm.
(2) The coronation of Joshua, as a type of the union of the royal and priestly offices in the person of the Messiah (Zechariah 6:9-15), has been pointed to by others as the occasion of the Psalm. But here again it is the priest who is crowned, not the prince who is declared to be also priest. The triumphant tone of the Psalm moreover, presaging victory for this great ruler, is by no means what might be expected from ‘the circumstances of the struggling community of the returned exiles.
(3) It remains to refer the Psalm to the period of the monarchy. It is true that the king of Israel did not bear the title of priest; but as the head and representative of a priestly nation (Exodus 19:6) he had a priestly character; and the priesthood spoken of in the Psalm is clearly something special, something distinct from the regular hereditary priesthood. If the Psalm belongs to the period of the monarchy, there seems to be no convincing ground for refusing to refer it to the time of David. The objection that an early poem must have found a place in one of the earlier books rests upon the unproved assumption that no early poetry was preserved independently of the collections contained in these books. At any rate there is no incident recorded in the historical books so likely to have suggested the Psalm as the translation of the Ark to Zion by David. The presence of the Ark on Zion was the outward sign that Jehovah had fixed His throne there. Beside it dwelt David, sitting as it were in the place of honour at Jehovah’s right hand as His viceroy. The new king of Jerusalem must reproduce the twofold office of the ancient priest-king of Salem, and become a type of the Messianic king, in whom these offices were to be united (Jeremiah 30:21; Zechariah 6:11-13). Many of those who regard the Psalm as directly Messianic find in this and other incidents of David’s life the motive of the Psalm, for “prophecy never seems wholly to forsake the ground of history,” and “we must look to some occurrence in David’s life for the secret impulse of his song.” But if we are free to choose, it seems best to regard the Psalm as addressed to David, and possessing a primary historical meaning rich in promise and encouragement for him in the founding of his new kingdom. This view however does not diminish the profound Messianic significance of the Psalm. “God through His Spirit so speaks in the Psalmist that words not directly addressed to Christ find their fulfilment in Him” (Bp Westcott). As the ages rolled on it was seen that its words were not fulfilled in David, but pointed forward to One Who was at once David’s son and David’s Lord. And in the event it was seen that the session at God’s right hand was the exaltation of Him who had passed victoriously through humiliation and passion to His former glory; that the eternal priesthood of which it speaks was His eternal priesthood of atonement and intercession and benediction; that the victories which it predicts are His assured triumph over the spiritual enemies of sin and death. Comp. generally Introd. pp. lxxvi ff.; and the Introductions to Psalms 2, 45, 72.
No Psalm is more frequently quoted and alluded to in the N.T. It was, as we have seen, quoted by our Lord (Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43); and His use of its language as recorded in Matthew 26:64 (= Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69) clearly involved (since its Messianic significance was acknowledged) an assertion of His Messiahship in answer to the High-priest’s adjuration. Psalm 110:1 is applied by St Peter to the exaltation of Christ in His Resurrection and Ascension (Acts 2:34-35), and is quoted in Hebrews 1:13 to illustrate the superiority of the Son to Angels. Cp. also Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:24 ff.; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12-13; Hebrews 12:1; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21. Psalm 110:4 serves as the basis of the argument in Hebrews 5:5 ff; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17 ff. concerning the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood.
The selection of the Psalm as a Proper Psalm for Christmas Day needs no comment.
A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.1. The Lord said unto my Lord] Jehovah’s oracle unto [or touching] my lord! The rendering said (R.V. saith) does not represent the full force of the word ne’um, which is commonly used of solemn Divine utterances (Genesis 22:16, and frequently in the prophets; in the Psalter elsewhere Psalm 36:1 only). The Psalmist speaks with the authority of a prophet who is conscious of having received a message from God. It makes little difference whether we render unto or touching. The message is addressed through the Psalmist to the king, and the king is the subject of it. Strictly speaking the ‘oracle’ is the remainder of the verse ‘sit thou … footstool,’ Psalm 110:2-3 being the Psalmist’s expansion of it; but the whole Psalm is a Divine message of encouragement for the king.
my Lord] The R.V. has rightly dropped the capital letter, as being of the nature of an interpretation. ‘My lord’ (adônî) is the title of respect and reverence used in the O.T. in addressing or speaking of a person of rank and dignity, especially a king (Genesis 23:6; 1 Samuel 22:11; 1 Kings 1. passim, Psalm 18:7; and frequently).
sit thou at my right hand] The seat at the king’s right hand was the place of honour (1 Kings 2:19; Matthew 20:21; cp. Psalm 45:9; 1Ma 10:63). But more than mere honour is implied here. This king is to share Jehovah’s throne, to be next to Him in dignity, to be supported by all the force of His authority and power. The idea corresponds to the recognition of the king as Jehovah’s son in Psalm 2:7. Somewhat similarly the king was said to ‘sit on the throne of Jehovah’ (1 Chronicles 29:23; cp. Psalm 28:5; 2 Chronicles 13:8). The customs of ancient Arabia supply an illustration. There the Ridf or Viceroy sat on the king’s right hand, and took precedence next to him. Greek poets spoke of their gods as ‘assessors’ of Zeus, ‘sharing his throne.’ Pindar (fragm. 112 Donaldson) speaks of Athene as “sitting on the right hand of the father (Zeus) to receive his commands for the gods.” Callimachus (Hymn to Apollo, 28, 29) says that Apollo has power to reward the chorus, “since he sits at Zeus’ right hand.” But still more to the point, in view of the Messianic interpretation of the passage, is the description of Wisdom in Wis 9:4 as ‘Wisdom that sitteth by God on His throne’ (δός μοι τὴν τῶν σῶν θρόνων πάρεδρον σοφίαν). The residence of the king on Zion in close proximity to the Ark was an outward symbol of his dignity.
until I make thine enemies thy footstool] A metaphor for complete subjugation, derived from the practice described in Joshua 10:24. Cp. 1 Kings 5:3; 1 Corinthians 15:25, and for the promise cp. Psalm 2:8-9. Until need not of course imply that the session is to come to an end when the subjugation has been effected.
For the N.T. application of this verse to the exaltation of Christ in the Resurrection, see above, p. 665.
1–3. Jehovah’s oracle concerning the king: the assurance of victory over his enemies: the willing service of his people.
The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.2. The sceptre of thy strength shall Jehovah stretch forth (or, send forth) out of Zion] The poet speaks, expanding the oracle. The rod or sceptre is the symbol of authority and power, the instrument of chastisement. (Cp. Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 10:26; and Psalm 2:9, though the Heb. word there is different.) Jehovah wields it on the king’s behalf. “He giveth strength unto his king” (1 Samuel 2:10). For the phrase rod of thy strength, cp. Jeremiah 48:17; Ezekiel 19:12; Ezekiel 19:14.
out of Zion] The capital of the new kingdom. Cp. Psalm 2:6.
rule thou in the midst of thine enemies] Supply saying before this clause. Jehovah speaks. The command is virtually a promise. Though enemies surround the king on every side, he is fearlessly to assume his sovereignty, and victoriously to exercise it. The word for ‘rule’ is used of Solomon in 1 Kings 4:24; cp. also Numbers 24:19; Psalm 72:8 (A.V. have dominion).
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.3. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power] Rather, Thy people offer themselves willingly (lit. are freewill offerings) in the day of thy muster (lit. army). The promised victory is not to be won without human agency, and Jehovah inspires the king’s subjects with a spirit of loyal self-devotion. Theirs is no forced unwilling service. Their alacrity recalls the days of Deborah, when the people and the governors of Israel “offered themselves willingly” to fight the battles of Jehovah (Jdg 5:2; Jdg 5:9).
The connexion of the clauses in the remainder of the verse is somewhat uncertain. It is possible, with R.V. marg., to join in the beauties of holiness, or, as it should rather be rendered, in holy adornments, with the preceding clause, and from the womb of the morning with the following clause. In this case from the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth might describe the constantly renewed youthful vigour of the king. But it is preferable, with R.V. text, to adhere to the Massoretic accentuation, and join both clauses with what follows, In holy adornments, from the womb of the morning, thou hast the dew of thy youth.
These words will then be a further description of the army mustering to march forth to battle for the king. Thy youth denotes the youthful warriors who flock with eagerness to his standard. They are clad in holy adornments, as it were an army of priests following their priestly leader. They are compared to dew; the mysterious birth of the morning, so abundant and so precious in hot Eastern countries. The comparison, however, need not be limited to a single point. It may further suggest their sudden appearance in obedience to the Divine command, their freshness, their inspiriting effect upon the king, their numbers, the glittering of their armour in the sunshine. Cp. Hosea 14:5; Isaiah 26:19; 2 Samuel 17:12; Micah 5:7, for various emblematical uses of dew. Cp. also Milton, Par. Lost, v. 744,
Innumerable as the stars of night
Or stars of morning, dewdrops, which the sun
Impearls on every leaf and every flower.”
in the beauties of holiness] Rather, in holy adornments. The similar phrase in Psalm 29:2; Psalm 96:9 (= 1 Chronicles 16:29); 2 Chron. 22:21; denotes the “holy garments for glory and for beauty” in which the priests were arrayed (Exodus 28:2). Israel was “a kingdom of priests”; these warriors had in an especial manner offered themselves to fight the battles of Jehovah, and their armour was the symbol of their consecration. Those who follow the priest-king are at once priests and warriors.
The reading however is uncertain. The plural hadrç (הדרי) ‘adornments’ does not occur elsewhere, and a trifling change in a single letter gives the reading harrç (הררי); on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1), i.e. the mountains of Zion, where the army musters. This reading is supported by Symmachus and Jerome (in montibus Sanctis), and agrees well with the figure of the dew. Cp. Psalm 133:3.
from the womb of the morning] The morning is the mother of the dew. For the personification, cp. Job 3:9; Job 38:12-13.
The rendering of this verse in the LXX deserves notice on account of the doctrinal importance attached to it by many of the Fathers who were dependent on that Version or on the Vulgate. Reading some of the words with different vowels, the LXX rendered it, “With thee is the beginning in the day of thy power, in the splendours of thy saints; from the womb before the daystar I begat thee.” The last clause was interpreted of the eternal generation of Christ, or of His birth in the early morning.
The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.4. The priesthood of the king.
Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent] The king is also priest by an immutable Divine decree. The immutability of this decree is affirmed in the most solemn manner possible. The ‘oath’ of Him who cannot lie is no stronger than His word; He who knows all things from the beginning cannot repent or change His purpose (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29), though man’s failure or change may necessitate a temporary interruption of His purpose which appears to finite man in the light of a ‘repentance.’ But He who is absolutely true and unchanging condescends for man’s sake to confirm His word by an oath. Cp. Amos 6:8; Psalm 132:11.
Thou art a priest for ever after the order (or, manner) of Melchizedek] Melchizedek, king of Salem, and priest of God Most High (El Elyôn), appears in Genesis 14:18 ff. as the representative of a true faith in the primitive world. He was a type of that union of civil and religious life, which must be the ideal of the perfect state. The thought here affirmed is that the new king of Jerusalem must hold a position in no way inferior to that of the ancient king of Salem. As the representative of “a kingdom of priests and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) he had a priestly character. As the representative of God to the people and of the people to God he had a mediatorial office. David, when he brought up the Ark into the city of David, laid aside his royal robes and wore the dress of a priest (2 Samuel 6:14): both he and Solomon exercised priestly functions in offering sacrifice, or at least in directing the sacrifices, if they did not actually offer them (2 Samuel 6:17-18; 1 Kings 8:62 ff.), and in blessing the people (2 Samuel 6:18; 1 Kings 8:14; 1 Kings 8:55); Solomon deposed and appointed a high-priest (1 Kings 2:27; 1 Kings 2:35). David’s sons, in whatever sense the term may have been used, were styled priests (2 Samuel 8:18). But the priesthood of the king is here implicitly distinguished from the hereditary priesthood of the family of Aaron, as a priesthood ‘after the manner of Melchizedek.’
For ever, as applied to an individual, may be a relative term, as in 1Ma 14:41, quoted above, p. 663. Cp. 1 Samuel 1:22. But the promise of an eternal priesthood corresponds rather to the promise of eternal dominion in 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:10; 2 Samuel 7:25; 2 Samuel 7:29. Made to an individual, it is realised in his descendants. Jeremiah speaks of the priestly right of access to God which is to be conferred upon the Messianic prince (Jeremiah 30:21); and the union of civil and religious life was symbolised under the altered circumstances of the return from Babylon by the coronation of Joshua (Zechariah 6:12-13).
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwells upon this verse in his exposition of the typical significance of the priesthood of Melchizedek, quoting it to illustrate the divine appointment of Christ to his high-priestly office, and the eternal duration and unique character of that office (Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21).
The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.5. The Lord] Adônai, i.e. Jehovah. The king is still addressed. Jehovah stands at his right hand as his champion in the battle. Cp. Psalm 16:8; Psalm 121:5; Psalm 109:31.
shall shatter kings] The verb is in the perfect tense, but the tenses in Psalm 110:6-7 shew that it is to be regarded, according to a common Hebrew idiom, as a ‘prophetic’ perfect. The victory is still future, but the Psalmist regards it as already won.
in the day of his wrath] The day of judgement upon the surrounding heathen nations, which is further described in Psalm 110:6. Cp. Psalm 2:5; Psalm 2:12; Psalm 21:9; Job 20:28; Isaiah 13:9; Isaiah 13:13; Zephaniah 2:3.
5–7. The scene changes to the battle-field. The king goes forth to war against his enemies. But he does not go in his own strength. Jehovah is at his right hand to fight his battles. In hot pursuit of his flying foes he halts but for a moment to refresh himself, and then presses on to his final triumph.
He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.6. He shall judge among the nations] The subject of the sentence must be Jehovah. Cp. Psalm 7:8; Psalm 9:8; Psalm 76:9. The nations are the enemies of Psalm 110:2. On them He will execute judgement, vindicating the cause of His king and people.
he shall fill (the battle-field) with corpses] This is on the whole the best rendering of an obscurely brief phrase. The tense is, as before, a prophetic perfect.
he shall shatter the heads over many countries] i.e. their rulers. But the usage of the phrase in Psalm 68:21, Habakkuk 3:13, points rather to the rendering, he shall shatter the head (of his enemies) over (all) the wide earth. The earth is the battle-field whereon He deals deadly blows upon all His enemies. Delitzsch and others think that the last words may also be rendered the land of Rabbah, and may contain at least an allusive reference to David’s conquest of the Ammonite capital (2 Samuel 12:26 ff.).
He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.7. The subject of this verse is not Jehovah, though the O.T. does not shrink from the boldest anthropomorphisms (e.g. Psalm 78:65; Isaiah 63:1 ff.), but the king. The transition is abrupt, but as in the prophets we pass insensibly from the words of Jehovah to the words of the prophet, so here we pass from the action of Jehovah to the action of the king, who is His representative.
The poet presents him to our imagination in hot pursuit of the enemy. Though wearied with the toil of battle, he does not desist. He halts but for a moment to drink from the mountain torrent which he crosses. Refreshed and invigorated, he presses forward to complete his victory, till he is exalted in triumph over every foe.
lift high the head] i.e. be triumphantly victorious. Cp. Psalm 3:3; Psalm 27:6.
The martial language of the Psalm receives a natural explanation if its primary reference was to David, at a time when the nation of Israel had to fight for its existence against enemies on every side, rather than to the Messiah whom he expected. That such language should be imitated in the Psalms of Solomon (17:23ff.), in an age which looked for a conquering king as its Messianic ideal, is not to be wondered at. The passage is worth quoting for the sake of its contrast as well as its resemblance to this Psalm and Psalms 2.
“Behold, O Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, in the time which thou knowest, O God,
That he may reign over Israel thy servant;
And gird him with strength to break in pieces unrighteous rulers;
To cleanse Jerusalem from the heathen that trample it down and destroy it,
In wisdom and in righteousness;
To thrust out sinners from the inheritance,
To break in pieces the arrogance of the sinners,
To shatter all their substance as a potter’s vessels with a rod of iron.
To destroy the lawless nations with the word of his mouth,
That the nations may flee from him at his rebuke,
And to punish sinners in the imagination of their heart.”
A translation of the Targum is subjoined. It will be noted that the Psalm is treated as referring to David.
Jehovah said by His word that He would make me lord of all Israel. But He said to me again, Wait for Saul who is of the tribe of Benjamin, until he die, for one kingdom approacheth not another [i.e. there cannot be two kings together], and afterwards I will make thine enemies thy footstool. [Another Targum. Jehovah said by His word, that He would give me dominion, because I devoted myself to learn the law of His (Psalm 110:1 my) right hand. Wait until I make thine enemy thy footstool.] The rod of thy strength shall Jehovah send forth from Zion, and thou shalt rule in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people of the house of Israel who devote themselves willingly to the study of the law, in the day of battle shalt thou be holpen with them: in splendours of holiness shall the mercies of God hasten unto thee like the descent of the dew: thy generations shall dwell securely. Jehovah hath sworn and will not repent, that thou shalt be appointed prince of the world to come for merit, because thou hast been an innocent king. The Shechinah of Jehovah at thy right hand hath stricken through kings in the day of His wrath. He is appointed judge over the peoples: he hath filled the earth with the bodies of the wicked who have been slain: he hath stricken through the heads of exceeding many kings over the earth. From the mouth of the prophet in the way shall he receive doctrine; therefore shall he exalt the head.