Reflecting on the Psalms: You are a priest forever

There are several psalms that speak of a king in the psalter. This could refer to an earthly king or to Yahweh as king of the universe.

Oct 02, 2021


By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam
There are several psalms that speak of a king in the psalter. This could refer to an earthly king or to Yahweh as king of the universe. We refer to these psalms in general as the Royal Psalms. Seven of these psalms speak of the king in Israel. The time of Joshua and the Judges in Israel was a troubled time when the Israelites entered and tried to settle in the land of Canaan. Israel borrowed the idea of a king from the surrounding peoples, with one big difference: they never deified their king like the other nations.

However, they called their king ‘son of God’, as he was the representative of God and responsible for the ‘holy wars’ against their enemies, defended the poor and became the shepherd of the people. Not only did they borrow the idea of a king from others, but they also borrowed the ritual of an enthronement ceremony for this king, coloured of course with their particular theology. The king in Israel was both a religious and a political figure. The following psalm gives us some idea of parts of an enthronement ceremony.

Royal Psalms (1) Psalms 109 (110) Week 4 Sunday Evening Prayer.

Basically, the ceremony unfolds in two parts, one in the Temple and the other in the palace. In the temple, the priest anoints the king and the prophet hands him a scroll with his new names, referring to his new identity. A procession with music and loud acclamation from the crowd leads the king to the palace. Once seated on the throne, he is given the royal insignia, the sceptre and the sword, presented with his army, usually a few officers, and the leaders in the community come to pledge their loyalty. The king then makes a declaration of his intention, a policy speech, followed by a cultic prophet saying a prayer to wish him a happy outcome of his reign.

This psalm is attributed to David in the heading and is recited at the coronation or the anniversary of a king’s enthronement. The setting is the throne room. The Temple ceremony of anointing is over. The psalmist begins by saying that the Lord God said to my master, the king, “Sit at my right hand…” The Temple faced east, and the royal palace is situated at the right of the Temple. The right hand is the stronger one usually and signifies power which the Lord promises the king. On the steps leading up to the throne there are sculptures of the defeated peoples which are stepped on by the king. Verse 5 repeats that God will defeat his enemies.

The king receives the sceptre as a symbol of his power so that he can rule over his own people and protect them against foreign enemies. The day of his enthronement is also considered to be his birthday. This is the day that is celebrated year after year. The Lord is said to have begotten him and he is thus called ‘the son of God’, a title taken from the other nations, without, however, the idea of divinisation. This psalm should be read together with Psalm 2, another royal psalm: “The Lord said to me: You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day” (Ps 2:7).

Verse 4 brings another concept of the royal ideology which looks upon the king as a priest. “You are a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.” The king who is an anointed person also has the duty to offer sacrifice. He is not called a priest according to the Aaronic or Zadokite priesthood, but according to the priesthood of Melchizedek, who came to bless Abraham after the latter’s victory over the enemies (Gen 14). Melchizedek was a priest and king of Salem which means peace. Together with his own name, meaning ‘king of justice’, we have a person who is both the king of justice and peace. Finally, Verse 7 will conclude the ceremony when the king goes over to the stream of Gihon to drink and ‘lift up his head’ in victory.

In the years following the exile, this psalm came to be read with the expectation of a Messiah King who would be of David’s line and who would lead his people against their enemies. I marvel when I realise how the Old Testament prepares us to receive Jesus in the New Testament. Who would have ever thought how this psalm is a perfect prediction of Christ, the King, the Victor and the Eternal Priest. Jesus himself applied this psalm to himself, Mt 22:41-46. He is King, Priest and Victim who celebrates the Eucharist, a memorial of his victory over death.

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Eddy W.
Priesthood needs to be protected and defended. We need holy priests. The German synod is questioning the need for priests.