Psalm 110 is the most often quoted scripture passage in the Believers’ Writings (New Testament). I believe this gives this specific prophecy some monumental significance. Joel McDurmon at Americanvision.org writes:
Most students of the Bible realize that the New Testament quotes from the Old quite often. It does so several hundred times, actually (2,300 if you count allusions and paraphrases). From this we can rightly infer that God takes God’s word seriously. But did you know there is one verse God quotes from himself far more than any other? I mean way more.
Just for comparison, the second most frequently-quoted verse is this important doozy: “love you neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). This shows up in seven different places in the NT. The vast majority of other verses quoted appear a couple times, or only once. But there is one that blows even Leviticus 19:18 away in frequency. It is this:
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
Not only may that seem surprising, but the numbers will, as well. This verse is quoted or alluded to 23 times in the NT. It is quoted in 11 out of 27 NT books, and by 7 of the 9 NT authors.
Indeed, if we may take just a little license and judge by such frequency, we may say that Psalm 110:1 is indeed God’s favorite bible verse.
Clearly, it is a key passage that the early believers relied on to indicate Yeshua’s status as Messiah. With this level of significance laid upon it by them, I believe it is highly beneficial to believers in Messiah today to have a recognition of some of the language underlying the English translations which can seem confusing and sometimes biased. This will assist our spiritual understanding of what is being said in this passage, and in other Bible passages, as well.
First, let’s take a look at what the passage itself says:
[Psalm 110:1-7 KJV] 1 [[A Psalm of David.]]
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. 3 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. 4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou [art] a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. 5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. 6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill [the places] with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. 7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
While not setting out to provide an exposition on the whole passage, I did want to point out the different occurrences of the word Lord. You will notice I have highlighted three different English representations of Lord in bold, yet each of the underlying Hebrew words have slightly different meanings. Here is a brief summary of each:
Verse 1: “LORD”
This word LORD in all caps is the English representation of the Hebrew word YHVH, what is known at the tetragrammaton. (Tetragrammaton comes from a Greek word meaning “consisting of four letters”). YHVH is the actual name of God the Father that he has revealed almost seven thousand times throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament). Some English versions use Jehovah for this name, others use Yahweh. (I will typically use the transliterated YHVH in writing, which I prefer to pronounce as Ya’h’veh). This word LORD also appears in verses 2 and 4.
Verse 1: “Lord”
The second Lord in verse 1 is in lower-case letters, sometimes capitalized in English translations, and other times, not. It comes from the Hebrew word l’adoni (pronounced la’ah-doh-nee) which is usually translated as master or lord, typically meaning a human superior.
Verse 5: “Lord”
This third occurrence of the English word Lord is yet another Hebrew word: Adonai (pronounced ah-doh-nie, or ah-do-noi). It is closely related to l’adoni in verse one; however, Adonai is typically reserved ONLY as a substitute for YHVH, not for human lords.
Strongs definition says this:
H136 ʼĂdônây, ad-o-noy’; an emphatic form of H113; the Lord (used as a proper name of God only):—(my) Lord.
Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon states it this way:
the Lord; used only of God, Gen. 18:27; Jud. 13:8; Ezr. 10:3; Neh. 1:11, etc., etc. [Chiefly (in the Pentateuch always) where God is submissively and reverently addressed…]
Those are some technical definitions, but I provide them as a background for the use of the word Adonai throughout the Tanakh. Again, Adonai was the unique title reserved for YHVH, not for human masters or lords.
(If you are interested in looking further into the Adonai substitutions that were made by scribes, please view my article on that topic here).
So, to answer the question in the title of this article, are there two or three “Lords” listed in Psalm 110? I believe what we find is that, while there are three different Hebrew terms used for the English word Lord in Psalm 110, these three words are only designating two individuals: (1) YHVH, or Adonai (God the Father) and (2) l’adoni (David’s lord or master, the Messiah).
As mentioned previously, while this article is not intended to be an in-depth exposition of the entire psalm, noting the original-language distinction in the term Lord does raise at least one larger question: who, in this psalm, is being referred to as David’s lord or master?
Well, Yeshua himself posed this very same question to a hostile audience, and in the process of doing so, I believe he provided us the insight needed to answer that question.
[Matthew 22:41-46 NASB] 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “[The son] of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET”‘? 45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” 46 No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.
Yeshua here decides to poke a little theological fun (with a purpose) at the Pharisees after sparring with them on his opinion of the greatest commandment in the Tanakh. After relaying his answer to their question, in true rabbinic fashion he then throws them a new question that would really force them to think. As you can see, his question relates directly to our passage under discussion.
Yeshua’s theological challenge to the Pharisees amounted to a paraphrase along these lines: “If the Messiah (Christ) is admitted by you (Pharisees) to be the son of David (his descendant), then how can David, through the inspiration of the holy Spirit, call the Messiah master or lord (as in human ruler)? In other words, how can a physical descendant of David become his ruler?” Knowing this would throw them off balance, he let the question rest there, and the text indicates that their theology could not provide an answer.
This question does require an answer, though. This answer is important for believers in Messiah to know due to the frequency of this verse being used to support Yeshua’s Messiah-ship throughout the Believers’ Writings (New Testament). By not providing an explicit answer, Yeshua actually provides the implied answer.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this account, and I believe the answer that Yeshua intended the Pharisees to have, is that Yeshua was claiming not only to be the prophesied descendant of David (and, hence, the Messiah), but, in his soon-to-be-exalted status “at the right hand of God,” he would ultimately be the ruler above the level of David, thereby truly becoming David’s lord or master. This prophecy of Psalm 110, then, became the primary scripture used by the early believers to demonstrate the truth of this conclusion, provided by Yeshua himself.
Below are all the direct references to Psalm 110 in the Believers’ Writings (New Testament), according to Jesuswalk.com:
110:1 Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42, 43; Acts 2:34, 35; Hebrews 1:13. Compare. Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; 16:19; Luke 22:69; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12, 13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22 110:4 Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21
Remember, these are the twenty-two direct references; there are even other allusions and implied statements that assume this passage to be fulfilled in Messiah Yeshua. If you are interested in evaluating some of these allusions as well, Paul Sumner over at Hebrew Streams has also provided this summary of the frequency of this passage in the Believers’ Writings (New Testament).
So as we ponder the Hebrew words representing YHVH and his Messiah, we are brought to an inescapable conclusion based on the prominence of these verses as represented by the early Messiah believers. In the quotations listed above, we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews all proclaiming and affirming the truth of Yeshua’s Lordship and rightful claim to the title of Messiah based on this fulfilled prophecy from the Psalms.
It is my belief that the two “Lords” of this passage (YHVH and Yeshua as Messiah) rule in harmony. They rule as Regent and Vice-Regent (exemplified in type by Pharaoh and Joseph) in the current kingdom, which was established for eternity at the victorious resurrection of God’s Son.