This psalm is ascribed to David. The opening verse is quoted in Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42, 43, Acts 2:34, 35, and Hebrews 1:13, and verse 4 is quoted in Hebrews 5:6; 7:17, 21, with specific application to the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Based on the divine promise conveyed to him through Nathan regarding the permanence of his royal line and with God’s spirit operating upon him, David could speak of a future Messiah, Anointed One, or a king whom he could call “my lord.” (Compare 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Acts 2:30, 31.) He portrayed YHWH as addressing this lord, inviting him to sit at his right hand until he would subdue his enemies, placing all of them as a stool for his feet. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:25.) The position at YHWH’s right hand would signify his having been granted exceptional favor and great honor.
From Zion, the location of the ark of the covenant and therefore his representative place of dwelling, YHWH is depicted as sending forth the future king’s scepter of strength. This indicates that the Almighty is the source of the royal authority of the future ruler to exercise dominion in the midst of his enemies, assuring complete victory. In the case of Jesus Christ, Zion proved to be the heavenly location in the actual presence of his Father.
The expression “your people” appears to designate subjects. These would be willing subjects, offering themselves to serve on the day of their king’s host or his time for warring against all enemies. Possibly these willing subjects are being spoken of as “arrayed in splendors of holiness,” clean and pure as if dressed in bright, clean garments. In the morning or at dawn, the dew appears. So the coming of “young ones” to the king from the “womb of the dawn” like dew could mean that they would be fresh, vigorous, and numerous like dewdrops. The plural of the Hebrew word for “youth” (“young ones”) may designate young men who would become part of the military force. Translators have often chosen the singular “youth,” with an application to the king. (See the Notes section for verse 3 regarding the Septuagint rendering and additional comments.)
YHWH’s sworn oath respecting his chosen king would never be a matter for a change of mind. That oath assured that he would be a priest forever like Melchizedek of ancient Salem, who functioned as both king and priest. As emphasized in the letter to the Hebrews (7:11-22), only Jesus Christ, from the royal line of David, serves as priest.
“The Lord at your right hand” could be the one whom the psalmist earlier called “my lord” and who is at YHWH’s right hand. (See, however, the Notes section.) On the “day of his wrath” or the time for executing justice, he would have YHWH’s full support as he shatters kings or rulers who defiantly refuse to submit to him. When he executes judgment among the nations, many would perish. The “head” (probably a collective singular meaning “all heads” or rulers) over extensive land areas would then be shattered. Possibly portraying the future king in his campaign, the psalmist speaks of him as drinking along the way from a torrent. This would be to refresh himself. The king would raise his head high, as would be common upon attaining the victory, not dropping his head as would one who had suffered shameful defeat.
In verse 1, where the Masoretic Text has the divine name (YHWH), the extant Septuagint text reads hó kyrios (“the Lord”). All the extant Greek manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts also read kyrios, but most of them omit the definite article. (Regarding YHWH, see Psalm 1.)
As in verse 1 of the extant Septuagint text, the term hypopódion (“footstool”) is found in Luke 20:43 (with rare exceptions), Acts 2:35, and Hebrews 1:13. Manuscripts for Matthew and Mark vary in reading either hypopódion (“footstool”) or hypokáto (“under”).
The Septuagint reading of verse 3 is, “With you [is] the power in [the] day of your might, in the splendors of the holy ones [or, holy things]; from the womb, before the morning star, I begot you.” This rendering suggests that the future king’s power would be brilliantly displayed in the day he takes battle action. Possibly the expression “before the morning star” places his being begotten before all creation.
Modern translations of the Hebrew text vary considerably, with renderings that often are highly interpretive paraphrases. “Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you.” (NAB) “Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.” (NRSV [The words “on the holy mountains” are based on another reading of the Hebrew; the footnote provides the alternate rendering, “in holy splendor.”]) “Your glorious power will be seen on the day you begin to rule. You will wear the sacred robes and shine like the morning sun in all of your strength.” (CEV) “Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.” (NIV) “Your people come forward willingly on your day of battle. In majestic holiness, from the womb, from the dawn, yours was the dew of youth.” (Tanakh) “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.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Your people will join you on your day of battle. You have been dressed in holiness from birth; you have the freshness of a child.” (NCV) “Your people will be willing to help in the day of Your power. Your young men will be dressed in holy clothes. They will come to You like water on the grass in the early morning.” (NLB)
In verse 4 of the Masoretic Text, “priest” is not preceded by the verb “are” and is also missing in the Greek text of Hebrews 7:17, 21. The verb ei (“are”) is, however, found in extant manuscripts of the Septuagint.
According to C. D. Ginsburg (The Massorah), Psalm 110:5 is one of the instances where the Jewish Sopherim changed “YHWH” to “Lord.” If YHWH is indeed the original reading of the Hebrew text, the apparent meaning would be that the Most High would be acting through his appointed king. Verses 5 through 7 have been interpretively paraphrased in various ways. “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.” (GNT, Second Edition) “The Lord is beside you to help you. When he becomes angry, he will crush kings. He will judge those nations, filling them with dead bodies; he will defeat rulers all over the world. The king will drink from the brook on the way. Then he will be strengthened.” (NCV) “My Lord is at your right side, and when he gets angry he will crush the other kings. He will judge the nations and crack their skulls, leaving piles of dead bodies all over the earth. He will drink from any stream that he chooses, while winning victory after victory.” (CEV)