Psalm 110: Heads Will Roll

Psalm 110 is one of the two most frequently quoted Psalms in the New Testament, yet its purpose and content remain mysterious unless we take into account its Covenant-literary structure.

Once the Covenant pattern is identified, the Psalm — and its anomalous references — suddenly makes sense as a description of a tour of duty. Indeed, this song of war presents to us an ideal which can be applied, to some degree, to every holy warrior.

“Long ago, (Creation)
at many times and in many ways, (Division)
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, (Ascension)
but in these last days (Testing)
he has spoken to us by his Son, (Maturity)
whom he appointed the heir of all things, (Conquest)
through whom also he created the world.” (Glorification)
(Hebrews 1:1-2)

Although the Psalm speaks of the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ, it draws its allusions from the conquests of previous “head crushers” in Covenant history. As it works its way from the throne of God, into the world, and back again, it picks up every priest, king and prophet in its train, each serving to describe a facet of the universal ministry of Christ. This is not merely a song about Jesus. It celebrates all overcomers in the totus Christus, where every member of the body is victorious through diverse spiritual gifts. The serpent must be made to eat dust in every domain, from the humblest household chores to the gravest decisions of the throne.


Of David (Creation)
A Psalm (Division)
Said Yahweh (Ascension)
to my Master (Testing)
Sit at my right (Maturity)
Till I make your enemies (Conquest)
Your footstool. (Glorification)

  • The title of the Psalm has been included as part of the first stanza, since this seems to be the practice observed in other Psalms.
  • This puts “Yahweh” at Ascension, which ties the name to its origin in the commission of Moses on Sinai and the subsequent Levitical priesthood. It also aligns it with the opening of the New Covenant scroll in heaven in Revelation 5, which led to a threefold campaign on earth against the rulers of the oikoumene in the first century. As is common, the first stanza is the entire Psalm in miniature, and thus, in promise. The word to this earthy “master” is a promise of dominion, like the commission given to Adam (regarding the Forming of the nations: flesh) and that given to Christ (regarding the Filling of the nations: Spirit).
  • The central three lines reflect the roles of the triune office: the Law given (Said Yahweh); the Law opened (to my Master); the Law received (sit/dwell at my right).
  • The placement of the delegated throne at Maturity makes it prophetic. This means that this particular tour of duty is not one of creation but of de-creation. This is a ministry of vengeance, a Covenant law suit against covenant-breakers, the enemies at Conquest. The role of the “right hand man,” although it found its perfect fulfilment in Christ, is pictured for us in the ministries of Joseph and Daniel, men who were tried but not found wanting, and thus given all the authority of the throne over the nations of the realm.
  • The footstool of God was the kapporet, the lid of the Ark, above which the name of Yahweh dwelt, representing His throne in heaven.1For more discussion, see Peter J. Leithart, The Footstool of His Feet. In a symbolic sense, in the Tabernacle, which represented the heavenly court, the heavens were “bowed down” to meet the earth, that God’s will in heaven might be done on earth. Just as God rules in heaven, so His chosen delegate would rule upon the earth. God was going to make the enemies of His earthly representative into a new kapporet, a covering like the firmament, hammered-out of kingly gold and sprinkled with atoning blood.
  • The first stanza works from Word to Sacrament to Government, from the head (the mind of David) to the mouth (a testimony in song), to the enthroned body (the triune office) to the feet, which speak of dominion over the earth. And feet take dominion by crushing draconian heads.
  • The identity of the greater and lesser “lords” is less confusing if we understand this chain of authority as a template for all of God’s works. If Yahweh here is the Father, then the Son could not have been Yahweh in the Old Testament. But Jesus, as the Word, spoke the words of the Father. The relationship between the Father and the Son is replicated in that between Yahweh and Adam, or Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or David. No definite identification is required. What is given to us here is the pattern, the ideal, so all instances are correct.


The staff (Initiation)
of your strength (Delegation)
shall put forth (Presentation)
Yahweh (Purification)
from Zion; (Transformation)
Prevail in the midst (Vindication)
of your enemies! (Glorification)

  • Line 1 of stanza 2 is necessarily a combination of two coordinates, Transcendence and Hierarchy, and the staff represents this delegated authority, being an extension of the right hand of Man.
  • The word for strength connotes brazenness, a bulwark that prevails (also in Psalm 8:2), so the idea is of holy mission outside the city walls. The word is also used of the “power” of the Ark of the Testimony to scatter God’s enemies when let loose (Psalms 78:61; 132:8).
  • The word for “put forth” frequently means to send and do something. That is the theme of Hierarchy, but placed in line 3 it connotes priestly obedience to the true King, Yahweh.
  • When Zion appears at Testing/Purification, it connotes the kingly aspect of Jerusalem. When placed at Maturity/Transformation, the bridal/prophetic aspect of the city is being highlighted.2For more discussion, see The Highest of the Mountains.
  • The concept of prevailing or taking dominion in line 6 mirrors the strength in line 2. However, that which was an external protection is now an internal animus, and the placements in this stanza reflect the shift from circumcision to baptism, from objective Covenant membership to voluntary service. The holy warrior extends the judgment of God outside the sanctuary of the holy city, bearing the sword to execute the Covenant sanctions.
  • “In the midst” is used of cutting the sacrifice, and of God being among His people. Here it has the idea of a warrior-king surrounded by foes, as the holy One among a perverse many, bearing the sword of God. Combining these two thoughts, it possibly also speaks of a curse that brings judgment from the inside, like the jealous inspection in Numbers 5, a cup of curses that is swallowed down by the harlot to cut off her children, a “circumcision” no longer symbolic but actualised in the sword. This is exactly what is enacted against Jericho, the firstfruits of the Land, and against post-Pentecostal Jerusalem in the Revelation, as the firstfruits of the World. The kingdom that is “within” is apparently weak and will be devoured, but once within it turns out to be the devourer.
  • “Enemies” comes from a root word which means to hate. Its placement in line 7 corresponds it to the feast of Booths and the nations surrounding Israel. This is the same pattern which structures the books of the major prophets, where judgment begins at the House of God, is executed by (or among) the tribes of Israel, and only then comes upon the Gentiles, before working its way back again via a humbled Israel to a restored House of God. God’s chosen delegate is a vessel for the Word, which never returns void.

ETHICS (Priesthood)

Priesthood COVENANT Kingdom
Your people …
(No false gods)
TRANSCENDENCE … [shall be] willing
(No false oaths)
in the day
(Holy Sabbath/Land)
HIERARCHY of your power,
(Honour parents/womb)
in the adornments
(No murder)
ETHICS of holiness
(No adultery)
from the womb
(No theft)
OATH/SANCTIONS of the dawn
(No false legal witness)
you have the dew
(No coveting house)
SUCCESSION of your youth.
(No coveting contents)
  • Although it follows the fivefold pattern, this stanza seems to recapitulate the Ten Commandments, which split each of the five Covenant steps into word-and-response, bridegroom and bride, or priest and people.3For more discussion, see God-In-A-Box.
  • The willingness here is related to a freewill offering, so in line 1 we have another correspondence to circumcision/birth (demarcation by blood) and baptism/investiture (demarcation by Spirit).
  • The day is the holy Sabbath, and the word for “power” connotes Israel’s “bridal” military might.
  • The “beauties” of holiness are revealed as the accoutrements of the High Priest. Corresponding to the two commandments which relate to the sins of the flesh, the adornments are Adamic (no shedding of innocent blood) and this holiness is embodied in the chastity of His bride (no strange fire).
  • The next tier, theft and false witness, describe Adam’s sin and his subsequent response to God when questioned. His unfaithfulness required blood atonement, which allowed a limited opening of the fruits of the Land and womb, to be maintained by faithful worship (as seen in the twin ministries of Cain and Abel).
  • The reason these symbols, as well as the final tier, are so oblique might be the “Firstfruits” character of the stanza, describing Adam himself as a young man fresh from the soil. This Adam, however, would not be cut off as Covenant Head. Being meek before God, He would inherit the world.

ETHICS (Kingdom)

Yahweh has sworn (Transcendence / Initiation)
and will not repent, (Hierarchy / Delegation)
“You are a priest forever (Ethics / Purification)
in the manner/order/cause (Oath/Sanctions / Vindication)
of Melchizedek.” (Succession / Representation)

  • The central stanza, which speaks of the true kingdom given freely to priestly people, describes not a priest but a living temple, a Man in whom God dwells. This man, like Noah, is qualified to bear the sword on God’s behalf.
  • This explains the reference to Melchizedek, who was not only a priest but also a king, most likely the first king of Jerusalem. “Melek Sadeq” means King of Righteousness. The point is that every true king is priestly, consciously representing the rule of God on earth, transcending the Sanctuary bounds of the Aaronic priests (private religion) and measuring out the rule of God upon the Land (public order).
  • Thus, David speaks of himself (in his better moments), and this holy dominion increased under his son Solomon, until Solomon turned to idols. But the Spirit also points to the greater David who would truly reunite Jew and Gentile in a priesthood of all nations, the New Covenant order of royal priests invested by baptism.

ETHICS (Prophecy)

The Lord, (Trancendence)
at your right hand (Hierarchy)
shall wound/crush/shatter (Ethics)
in the day of his wrath, (Oath/Sanctions)
kings. (Succession)

  • Whereas the priest stands before God in the Garden, and the King sits enthroned over the Land, the Prophet walks in the World. In Israel’s pattern, this is of course the ministry of the prophets. In the complete biblical pattern, this is the ministry of the Gospel by the New Covenant saints to all nations. The flaming sword of the tongue comes first, bringing life to those who received it and death to those who refuse it.


He shall judge (Transcendence)
among the nations; (Hierarchy)
he shall fill with corpses; (Ethics)
he shall wound the heads (Oath/Sanctions)
over many lands. (Succession)

  • The end of the process crushes the heads — the rulers — who rebel, which is an element of mission neglected in modern teaching. That which was measured out upon first century Israel by Jesus and His apostles, and then by the sword of zealot and Roman at the behest of the new government in heaven, is also measured out upon every nation which hears the Word of Life.
  • Notice that the division at Hierarchy is nations (corporate), but the division at Sanctions is individuals (personal).
  • The book of Judges features the theme of head crushing to a great degree, culminating in Samson, who placed himself between two pillars, as the two trees in Eden, priesthood and kingdom, and crushed the multiplied heads of the Philistine state in a single blow as a prophet of God.
  • The primeval message is that He who crushes the head of the serpent in the Garden has power over His brothers in the Land, and over the wild beasts of the World. In the Revelation, the Body of Christ refuses to be deceived, being ministered to by a better Adam. The Church goes on to defeat both the Herodian beast in the Land and the Roman beast in the World.


From the torrent (Transcendence)
along the way (Hierarchy)
He shall drink, (Ethics)
Thus shall he lift up (Oath/Sanctions)
the head. (Succession)

  • The final stanza seems eccentric without reference to Covenant-literary architecture as a tour of duty. The priest-king, as holy warrior, having fulfilled His “Nazirite” vow and crushing the heads of God’s enemies, now drinks from the valley-torrent along the way back to Zion’s Sanctuary, with his own head lifted up (Psalm 3; Jeremiah 52:31). In David’s case, the heads of Goliath and Saul, Sea beast and Land beast, were both cut off the he might take dominion unchallenged.
  • The picture is an anticipation of Edenic rest. Within the stanza itself, the “brook” is a torrent flowing down from the Edenic spring, the way is the path to the promised Land, the drink is the Spirit, the exaltation comes at the hand of God, and the head (rosh) is given a bridal body, a righteous congregation, a Succession, by God.
  • Blood runs in stanza 6, water revives in stanza 7, and this blessed Man enjoys rest and rule. If Psalm 111 followed 110 in worship, the next song expressed the worship of the holy warrior as head of God’s people upon His return to the Sanctuary. Mission accomplished.


Image: Ahimelech Giving the Sword of Goliath to David, Aert de Gelder, 1680s.

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References   [ + ]

1. For more discussion, see Peter J. Leithart, The Footstool of His Feet.
2. For more discussion, see The Highest of the Mountains.
3. For more discussion, see God-In-A-Box.

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