לְדָוִד מִזְמ֥וֹר נְאֻם יי לַֽאדֹנִי שֵׁ֥ב לִֽימִינִי
עַד־אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶ֗יךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶֽיךָ׃

“A Psalm by David. HaShem says to my master, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet.’ HaShem will send forth the rod of your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of your enemies. Your people offer themselves willingly on the day of your power, in holy array. Out of the womb of the morning, you have the dew of your youth. HaShem has sworn, and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. The Lord is at your right hand. He will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge among the nations. He will heap up dead bodies. He will crush the ruler of the whole earth. He will drink from the brook in the way; therefore he will lift up his head.”
Psalms 110:1-7

Psalm 110 is, in many respects, the twin to Psalm 2. The parallels between the two are numerous, and both contain prophecies of the exalted Messiah. In Hebrew, verse 1 reads, 

L’David. Mizmor. Ne’um HaShem l’adonee, shev limini.
For David, a Song. HaShem said to my master, sit at my right hand.

In this article, we will focus on the opening verse, as it has become battleground between missionaries and anti-missionaries disputing about the Messiahship of Yeshua. Anti-missionaries are correct that the word אדֹנִי translated as “lord” or “master” is not a Divine title. Although it is applied to HaShem (Adon Olam), it is also applied to angelic beings and humans. It is distinct from the word, “AD-NAI”.

This is difficult to see through the obscuring filter of English translations. However, this is not a result of “tampering” but a consequence of translation itself, as this rendering occurs in both Jewish and Christian versions. The demagoguery surrounding this issue claiming that “Psalm 110 represents one of the New Testament’s most stunning, yet clever, mistranslations of the Jewish Scriptures” [1] is patently false and does not withstand scrutiny.

However, the New Testament does interpret Psalm 110 as a Messianic prophecy, applying it to Messiah Yeshua in numerous places [2]. Anti-missionary Rabbi Tovia Singer seems to disagree,

“Is the above verse (Psalm 110:1) speaking about the messiah? Not at all.” [3]   

However, in his online videos, he appears to allow for the interpretation as referring to Messiah. Singer’s non-messianic interpretation is based on the idea that Psalm 110 was written by David, for David, so that the Levites would sings about him. There is nothing wrong with this statement, as this can apply to King David, who is the prototype of Mashiach. Furthermore, it is well known that verses that concern David also apply to Mashiach. However, is R’ Singer’s article correct in claiming that Psalm 110 is not a messianic prophecy?

ABRAHAM

What do the rabbis say about Psalm 110? Some interpret this passage as referring to Abraham,

“R. Hana b. Liwai said: Shem, [Noah’s] eldest son, said to Eliezer [Abraham’s servant], ‘When the kings of the east and west attacked you, what did you do?’ He replied, ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, took Abraham and placed him at His right hand, and they [God and Abraham] threw dust which turned to swords and chaff which turned to arrows, as it is written, ‘A Psalm of David. HaShem said unto my master, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Sanhedrin 108b, Soncino Press Edition

The Midrash Rabbah follows this interpretation,

“R. Ishmael and R. Akiba [reasoned as follows]. R. Ishmael said: ‘Abraham was a High Priest, as it says, ‘The Lord has sworn, and will not repent: You are a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4).”
Genesis Rabbah 46:5, Soncino Press Edition
Cf. Gen. Rabbah 55:6, 55:7, Lev. Rabbah 25:6, Deut. Rabbah 2:7, Midrash Tanchuma

The Talmud and the Midrash both apply Psalm 110 to Avraham, who met Melchizedek after the War of the Nine Kings described in Genesis 14. The mysterious figure of Melchizedek will be addressed in a future article. It is important to note, however, that what applies to Avraham in the verse also applies to Mashiach. This is a fundamental principle brought down in the Tanakh and Talmud, that history is prophecy, that which has been done, is what will be done (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In other words history is cyclical, repeating patterns recur in every cycle. Hence, what applies to Avraham and David, also applies to Mashiach. The Midrash Rabbah states,

“When you see the Powers fighting each other, look for the coming [lit. ‘feet’] of the King Messiah. The proof is that in the days of Avraham, because these Powers fought against each other, greatness came to Avraham.”
Genesis Rabbah 42:4, Soncino Press Edition

Thus we see that Avraham is a prototype of Mashiach, being the Mashiach of his generation.  

MASHIACH

If we find passages of the rabbis applying Psalm 110 directly to the Messiah, then anti-missionary claims that Psalm 110 is not messianic would require significant revision. Pirkei Avot d’Rabbi Natan states,

“These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth (Zech. 4:14). This is a reference to Aaron and the Messiah, but I cannot tell which is the more beloved. However, from the verse, The Lord has sworn and will not repent: ‘You are a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), one can tell that the Messianic King is more beloved than the righteous priest.”
Avot d’Rabbi Natan, The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan,Chapter 34, Translated by Judah Goldin, Yale University Press, pg. 137-138.

Numbers Rabbah says, 

[Aaron’s] staff was held in the hand of every king until the Temple was destroyed, and then it was [divinely] hidden away. That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, ‘The staff of your strength, the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule in the midst of your enemies (Ps. 110:2).”
Numbers Rabbah 28:23, Soncino Press Edition, cf. Genesis Rabbah 85:9

The text Tefilat R’ Shimon bar Yochai states,

“The Holy One, blessed be He, will fight on behalf of Israel. He will say to the Messiah, “Sit at My right hand” (Ps 110:1), and the Messiah will say to Israel, “Assemble yourselves and ‘stand aside and witness the Lord’s deliverance’!” (Exod 14:13). Immediately the Holy One, blessed be He, will go forth and do battle with them, as Scripture promises: “The Lord will go forth and do battle with those nations” (Zech 14:3), and it is recorded in Scripture: “At that time I will bring you, and at that time I will gather you; for I will make you famous and an object of praise for all the peoples of the earth” (Zeph 3:20).’ Amen!  May that time and that occasion be soon!
Tefillat R’ Shimon bar Yochai, translated by John C. Reeves [4]

This exact scenario plays out in Otot HaMashiach, where Armilus (the Antichrist), attacks Israel,

“Armilos will hear that a king has arisen for Israel, and he will say: ‘How long will this despicable and contemptible nation behave this way?’ He will immediately muster all the forces of the nations of the world and come to do battle with the Lord’s Messiah. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will deem it unnecessary for him (i.e., the Messiah) to engage in battle. Instead, He will say to him: ‘Remain by My right hand!’ (Ps 110:1), and He will inform Israel: ‘Stand still and behold the Lord’s deliverance which He effects for you today!’ (Exod 14:13).”
Otot HaMashiach, translated by John C. Reeves [5]

The Midrash Alpha Betot states,

“[God says:] “Ephraim, My firstborn, you sit on My right until I subdue the army of the hosts of God and Magog, your enemies, under your footstool . . .”
Midrash Alpha Betot 2:438-42, cited in the Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai

The incredibly fascinating book by R’ Hillel Shklover, the disciple of the Vilna Gaon, entitled Kol HaTor (The Voice of the Turtledove), links this via notarikon (acrostic) to Mashiach ben Yosef,

MBY

 יָדִין בַּ֭גֹּויִם מָלֵא גְוִיֹּות

He will judge the nations filled with corpses (Psalm 110:6) – The entire Psalm, beginning with “Sit on my right” was said about Mashiach ben Yosef, whose name is hinted at in the initial letters  יָדִין בַּ֭גֹּויִם מָלֵא גְוִיֹּות going from left to right. . .”
Kol HaTor 2.61, translated by Rabbi Yechiel Bar Lev and K. Skaist, YedidNefesh.com

R’ Ovadya Sforno says this Psalm is dedicated to the future Messiah [6]. Thus, the idea that Psalm 110 does not apply to Messiah has been completely discredited. Daniel 7 says,

“I watched until the thrones (כָרְסָוָן֙)were set in place, and the Ancient of Days sat, whose robe was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool. His throne was like flames of fire, and His wheels like burning fire.”
Daniel 7:9

Notice that the word “thrones” is plural. In interpreting this verse, R’ Akiva ignited controversy in the Talmud by stating that David (meaning Messiah) will sit next to HaShem on one of these thrones,

“I beheld till thrones were placed”? The Gemara answers: One throne is for Him and one throne is for David, i.e., the messiah, as it is taught in a baraita: One throne is for Him and one throne is for David; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yosei said to him: Akiva! Until when will you desacralize the Divine Presence? Rather, the correct interpretation is that both thrones are for God, as one throne is for judgment and one throne is for righteousness.”
Sanhedrin 38b, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org
[7]

In other words, R’ Yosei’s opinion is that saying a mere human being can sit next to HaShem, profanes the Divine Presence. The book of Daniel illustrates, however, that the Messiah is a super human figure, ascending even above the level of Moshe Rabbeinu,

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, One like a Son of man (כְּבַ֥ר אֱנָשׁ) came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And dominion and glory was given Him, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages, should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
Daniel 7:13-14

Notice that it says “like” a son of man, i.e. humanlike. This exalted figure is human, yet beyond human – super human – like Adam HaRishon before the sin and even greater. To the point that he is brought into the presence the Ancient of Days.

THE PARADOX

In the Gospels, Yeshua has a discussion with the Pharisees regarding the verse,

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Yeshua asked them a question, saying, What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he? They said to him, Of David’. He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call him ‘Lord’, saying, ‘HaShem said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’ If then David calls him ‘Lord’, how is he his son? No one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man dare ask him any more questions from that day forth.”
Matthew 22:41-46

Singer claims, 

“…this conversation could not have occurred…No Jew who had even a superficial knowledge of the Jewish scriptures would have ever found Jesus’ argument compelling, let alone a conversation stopper…[8] 

It appears that R’ Singer misunderstands the point of Yeshua’s question, as he is looking through the lens of Christianity. Before we address Singer’s claim, we must first understand the implication of Yeshua’s argument in this passage. As explained above, we know that David wrote the Psalm, and the Psalm does indeed apply to Messiah. The question is how the father, David, can call his son, the Messiah, “his master”. 

It is a well known principle that a father is greater than the son, like the trunk of a tree has a greater diameter than the branch which projects from it.. The Talmud teaches, ‘a son is the limb (i.e. extension) of his father,

[יורש כרעיה דאבוה [רגלו של אביו

“an heir is like his father’s foot, i.e., he is considered an extension of his father and substitutes for him in all regards…”
Eiruvin 70b, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org [9] 

Yitzhak Kasdan explains,

“Indeed, this is the underpinning of the concept in the g’marah (Sanhedrin 104a) that “b’ra m’zakeh aba” – a son brings merit to his father through good deeds, learning Torah, etc. He does so because “b’ra kareih d’avuah” (cf. Eruvin 70b), a son is considered an extension – literally the leg – of his father, either because the son and father are part and parcel of each other (i.e., are joined together) or because the father is considered the gorem, the cause, of his son’s actions (i.e., since the son emulates him by following in his footsteps). In other words, the son’s actions and accomplishments are considered as the father’s and are credited to the father.
Yitzhak Kasdan, Understanding The Mitzvah of Hesped [10]

The father (the gorem, the cause) is greater than the result (the son). This concept illustrates the paradox behind this passage from Midrash Tehillim,

“R. Yudan said in the name of R. Hama: In the time-to-come, when the Holy One, blessed be He, seats the lord Messiah at His right hand, as is said The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at My right hand” (Ps. 110:1), and seats Abraham at His left, Abraham’s face will turn pale, and he will say to the Lord: “My son’s son sits at the right, and I at the left!” Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, will comfort Abraham, saying: “Your son’s son is at My right, but I, in a manner of speaking, am at your right”: The Lord [is] at your right hand (Ps. 110:5).”
Midrash Tehillim 18.29, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press Edition, pg. 261

This Midrash highlights the exact same paradox spoken of by Yeshua! How is it possible that the gorem (the cause), Avraham avinu, sits on the left while Mashiach, the son of his son, sits in the more prestigious seat on Hashem’s right? The Midrash Tanchuma states,

“A song of ascents. I will lift up mine eyes to the mountains (Ps. 121:1). Scripture alludes here to the verse Who are you, O great mountain before. Zerubbabel? You shall become a plain (Zech. 4:7). This verse refers to the Messiah, the descendant of David. Why was he called a great mountain? Because he will be greater than the patriarchs, as is said: Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (Isa. 52:13). He shall be exalted above Abraham; lifted up above Isaac; and shall be very high above Jacob. He shall be exalted above Abraham, concerning whom it is said: I have lifted up my hand unto the Lord (Gen. 14:22); lifted up above Moses, of whom it is said: That you should say to me: Carry them in your bosom (Num. 11:12); and shall be very high like the ministering angels, concerning whom it is said: As for their wings, they were high (Ezek. 1:18). Hence Scripture says: Who are you, O great mountain?”
Midrash Tanchuma, Toldot, Siman 14, translated by Samuel A. Berman, Sefaria.org [11]

Yeshua’s argument is incredibly compelling, and is found in Rabbinic literature. It’s the anti-missionary argument that fails to be a conversation stopper. The New Testament reveals why the Messiah is greater than Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, Moshe and David. R’ Yitzhak Breiter writes in the Seven Pillars of Faith,

“The soul of Mashiach preceded the world. It is the root of the souls of Israel, and the entire Creation, for “The entire universe was only created to attend him” (Berakhot 6b) and “The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 10:25).”
R’ Yitzhak Breiter, The Seven Pillars of Faith, Seventh Pillar: The Tzaddik, Breslov.org [12]

Thus Messiah is not only David’s son, but also his master. This is because the Soul of Mashiach is not only the Branch of David, but also his Root, as Yeshua says,

 אָנֹכִי שֹׁרֶשׁ דָּוִד וְתוֹלַדְתּוֹ

“I am the root and the offspring of David.”
Revelation 22:16


REFERENCES

  1. R’ Tovia Singer, ‘The Lord said to My Lord’ To Whom was the Lord Speaking in Psalm 110:1, Outreach Judaism
  2. Matt 22:42-26, Mark 12:35-37, 16:19, Luke 22:41, Acts 2:34, Eph 1:20-22, Hebrews 1:13, 10:12-13, 12:2, 1 Cor 15:25, 1 Pet 3:22, among others.
  3. R’ Tovia Singer, ‘The Lord said to My Lord’ To Whom was the Lord Speaking in Psalm 110:1, Outreach Judaism
  4. Tefillat R’ Shimon bar Yochai, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, translated by John C. Reeves
  5. Otot HaMashiach, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, translated by John C. Reeves
  6. Tehillim: A New Translation with Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources, Vol 2, Mesorah Publishing Ltd, 1340, cited in Torah Club: Chronicles of Messiah, Volume 4, First Fruits of Zion, pg. 1323
  7. Sanhedrin 38b, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org
  8. R’ Tovia Singer, ‘The Lord said to My Lord’ To Whom was the Lord Speaking in Psalm 110:1, Outreach Judaism
  9. Eiruvin 70b, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org
  10. Yitzhak Kasdan, Understanding The Mitzvah of Hesped
  11. Midrash Tanchuma, Toldot, Siman 14, translated by Samuel A. Berman, Sefaria.org
  12. R’ Yitzhak Breiter, The Seven Pillars of Faith, Seventh Pillar: The Tzaddik, Breslov.org
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