What do you think about the Messiah? Whose descendant is he?… Why, then did the Spirit inspire David to call him ‘Lord’? David said, ‘The Lord said to my lord: Sit here at my right side until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If, then, David called him ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be David’s descendant?
It says that Jesus initiates a conversation with a group of Pharisees about the Messiah. He asks them who they think the ancestors of the Messiah are. He knows full well how they will answer because several of the prophets say that the Messiah will be a descendant of David. It was the traditional Jewish belief. Here are just a few examples:
A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.” His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace. He will rule as King David’s successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time. The Lord Almighty is determined to do all this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 – Immortalized by Handel in The Messiah).
The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David’s descendants. (Isaiah 11:1 – The Peaceable Kingdom).
Then one of David’s descendants will be king, and he will rule the people with faithfulness and love. He will be quick to do what is right, and he will see that justice is done. (Isaiah 16:5).
The Lord says, “The time is coming when I will choose as king a righteous descendant of David. That king will rule wisely and do what is right and just throughout the land. (Jeremiah 23:5).
At that time I will choose as king a righteous descendant of David. That king will do what is right and just throughout the land. (Jeremiah 33:15).
But the time will come when the people of Israel will once again turn to the Lord their God and to a descendant of David their king. Then they will fear the Lord and will receive his good gifts. (Hosea 3:5).
Jesus knew that the Prophets always said that the Messiah, the great king that they were expecting who would usher in the New Age would be a descendent of King David. David was, of course, Israel’s greatest king and he lived about 1000 years before Jesus. David began his military career by killing Goliath, the Philistine giant, and then he went on to kill tens of thousands before becoming king. The Jews remember David’s reign as a time when they were safe from their enemies and all was well with the world. (I Samuel 18:7). Ah, those were the glory days that the Jews were anxious to get back to. So, of course the Anointed One, the new David, the Son of God, the Messiah, would certainly be David’s descendant.
Although Matthew begins his book by definitely stating that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus himself is rather evasive about this Messiah business. Throughout his life he refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” which essentially means “Everyman” or “humanity in all its frailty” as opposed to “Son of God” which implies a divine, anointed being. Anyway, the early Christians decided he was the Messiah but the Jews didn’t agree. I discuss the subject of the Messiah in more depth on Day 145.
When Jesus confronts the Pharisees and challenges their traditional beliefs about the Messiah he makes this really strange statement – Why, then did the Spirit inspire David to call him ‘Lord’? David said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit here at my right side until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If, then, David called him ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be David’s descendant?
Pretty enigmatic. The quote Jesus uses comes from Psalm 110 which tradition says was written by King David:
The Lord said to my lord, “Sit here at my right side until I put your enemies under your feet.” From Zion the Lord will extend your royal power. “Rule over your enemies,” he says. On the day you fight your enemies, your people will volunteer. Like the dew of early morning your young men will come to you on the sacred hills. The Lord made a solemn promise and will not take it back: “You will be a priest forever in the priestly order of Melchizedek.”
As this scripture implies, there are two different “Lords” here. One is capitalized and one is not. The first one is the Hebrew “Yaweh” so that one is God. The second one is unspecific. According to the traditional Jewish interpretation of this scripture, the second one refers to David. Why would David have referred to himself as “lord?” The Jewish explanation is that David wrote the Psalms to be sung in the Temple and that is why he refers to himself in the third person:
King David was a faithful servant of God who possessed extraordinary skills as a teacher, musician, and poet. In fact, King David authored most of the Book of Psalms. The central purpose of the composition of this sacred work for the Levites to sing them in the Temple. The Levites would stand on a platform and joyfully chant these spiritually exhilarating Psalms to an inspired audience. Accordingly, the Levites would sing aloud,
The Lord [God] said to my master [King David] “Sit thou at my right hand…” (Psalm 110:1)
In other words, the Hebrew interpretation is that King David wrote this song to be sung ABOUT him in the temple after his death.
As indicated in the very first chapter of Matthew, the Christian position is that Jesus is the Messiah and they interpret today’s scripture (and all of the rest of them) through this filter. Consequently, they say that David is not writing about himself. The Christians say that Psalm 110 is really a prophecy about Jesus so they interpret it like this:
The Lord [God] said to my master [Jesus] “Sit thou at my right hand…”
Whatever is going on isn’t clear, but it’s one of those things Jewish and Christian scholars traditionally argue about to keep themselves amused. Personally it makes no sense to me why Jesus says this to the Pharisees because it’s unclear and doesn’t prove anything. It’s just weird.
What intrigues me more is Matthew’s certainty that Jesus is the Messiah. Because the prophets all predicted that the Messiah would be a descendent of David, Matthew starts his book by tracing Jesus’ genealogy back to David (actually, to Abraham) to support this assertion. I will condense this down to make it easier to read:
This is the list of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Abraham. From Abraham to King David, the following ancestors are listed: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc…and King David. …. From the time after the exile in Babylon to the birth of Jesus, the following ancestors are listed: Jehoiachin, etc.… and Joseph, who married Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-16).
The strange thing is that Matthew puts forth two competing ideas– that Jesus is a descendant of David and the biological “son of God” via virgin birth – in Chapter 1. Right there in the same chapter! I guess it’s just my linear Germanic kind of thinking that makes this so mind-boggling. I always want to say to Matthew, “Make up your mind, friend. You can’t have it both ways. You have to give up one of these concepts because you are not making sense. If it was a virgin birth, then Jesus isn’t in any way related to David, which makes his credentials as the Messiah questionable at best.” In my opinion Matthew is a little fixated on this Messiah business to the point that he is writing things that would make any ration person question his credibility on the subject.
Just to cast a little more doubt on the objective reality of this scripture, one only needs to look at the remainder of Psalm 110 (which Jesus is supposedly quoting in today’s scripture) that describes the Messiah. After the Lord/lord stuff it says this:
“The Lord is at your right side; when he becomes angry, he will defeat kings. He will pass judgment on the nations and fill the battlefield with corpses; he will defeat kings all over the earth. The king will drink from the stream by the road, and strengthened, he will stand victorious.”
Do you really think Jesus would quote a scripture that talks about an angry God who fills battlefields with corpses? I challenge you to find any other place where Jesus says anything remotely like this. Do you think he wants to be the kind of king who considers it a victory when he’s looking at a battlefield full of corpses? It would be antithetical to his ministry. He was a pacifist.
Matthew, Matthew, Matthew! Did you really hear Jesus say this? Is it possible that there has been a misunderstanding here? Or was this something you just slipped in there to support your agenda? We have no way of knowing.
My faith in the Bible is tested by scriptures like this one today that make very little sense but are assigned great importance. This very oblique scripture is used as evidence by Christendom that Jesus is the Messiah. In my opinion, if Jesus wanted to say he was the Messiah, he would have said, “I am the Messiah you have been waiting for.” He doesn’t do that. Jesus also never says that his mother Mary was a virgin. And he never says a thing about Joseph one way or another. So to me it’s like creationism/evolution. Who cares? Not me.
In the final analysis it’s critically important to remember that there are the things Jesus said, and then there are other things people said about him. The things people said about him may indeed be correct, but they usually are not anywhere as amazing as the things he said. He was not fixated on himself, he was consumed with trying to help mankind strengthen their relationship with God. He wanted them to learn about the importance of love. He wasn’t interested in teaching people about his own self-importance. That was something Matthew and the others who wrote about him did. And some of those things that the writers of the Bible came up with just don’t stand the tests of either logic or time. Not like the message and ministry of Jesus which is just as relevant today as it was in his own day.
Oh well. I’m not going dwell on this. I don’t want to waste my time thinking about this goofy scripture anymore. At the end of the day, what Jesus said is the foundation of my faith and his words ring true to me – wherever they came from. Except for the words in this particular scripture. I can’t make any sense of these words and they say nothing to me.
But don’t listen to me. Maybe Jesus really did say this – for whatever reason. Maybe, for example, he just wanted to throw out something to confuse the Pharisees. I remember an old guy I worked with who said that when it came to upper management, all you really had to do was dazzle them with your footwork. Maybe Jesus was just throwing out a red herring to keep them distracted for a little while.
What does this scripture say to you?