Psalm 2 Commentary: As we study Psalm 2 we’ll be seeing the psalmist’s wonder and amazement at the fact that this world is constantly and actively rebelling against God’s plan and at the same time they show heated antagonism to God’s national representative – the nation of Israel and – in particular in Psalm 2 – to Israel’s Davidic king.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Illustration
So, last Tuesday (March 17, 2015) marked the election for the Israeli Prime Minister. You did know it was an election for ISRAEL’S Prime Minister, didn’t you? If you didn’t, I can understand. Our national media doesn’t give that much coverage to most elections for our own congressmen or governors!
And I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that most of the media – and even our own president and other world leaders – weren’t happy about who won. And why are they not happy? The thing that bothers them the most is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent rejection of the idea of dividing the land of Israel up in order to make a separate Palestinian state within Israel’s borders.
Wow – remember the question that Pastor Fuller sought to answer in his sermon last Sunday? “Whose is the Land?” What’s God’s answer? If you were listening, I think you’d have to conclude that the land belongs to the nation of Israel. Why? Because God promised them that land. And yet, everyone is up-in-arms about them solely living in that land. Interesting.
Well, world-wide anger towards God and his national representative, Israel, is not something new. In fact, this kind of universal upheaval against God’s plans regarding Israel is something that’s contemplated in Psalm 2.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Genre
Psalm 2 is considered to be a royal psalm. In other words, it’s a psalm about the king of Israel – the ruler who either was David himself or one who descended from David. The psalm itself doesn’t explicitly tell us whether it’s speaking of David or one of his descendants. But actually, Peter in Acts chapter 4 and verse 25 reveals that it was in fact David who wrote this psalm. At any rate, it’s a royal psalm.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Divisions
The structure of Psalm 2 is made of three parts. Verses 1 through 3 tell us about this near-universal rejection of the Lord and the king whom he’s anointed to rule his nation Israel – the Davidic ruler. That’s the first section.
The second section runs from verse 4 trough verse 9. This is where we’re given the reaction of the Lord to this international uprising against his reign. So, that’s part two of three.
And finally we have the last section in verses 10 through 12. Based on God’s reaction to this international uprising against his authority, the psalmist gives some advice to those doing the uprising. And so that’s the last section of this psalm.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Topic and Theme
Well, what is Psalm 2 about? I think the issue of God’s sovereign rule is unavoidable throughout the psalm. It permeates all of the psalm. God rules. And he does so through his anointed Davidic king. There’s widespread rebellion against this king. But it’s vain to try to get away from the God who holds your very life in his hands. That very God has determined to set his king on his holy hill of Zion and to destroy all opposition. And therefore – submit to that rule. So, that’s what I’ll entitle this message. Here it is: Submit to God’s Rule.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Implied Situation
Last thing we’ll consider before we work at explaining this psalm is the implied situation. I think what called for the writing of this psalm in its original setting was something like this. David and his son Solomon ruled over much of the land that God originally promised to Abraham. Not all of it, I think. But most of it. And Israel certainly occupied a portion of that land. But most of that area was inhabited by other nations. When David and Solomon ruled Israel they reigned over those other nations and their kings. And sometimes those kings and the nations they were leading opposed their being ruled over by an Israelite king. And so they’d make attempts to rebel against the Davidic king and throw off his rule from over them. So, I believe that this kind of a situation is what provoked the psalmist to write this psalm. The people over whom the king of Israel ruled were trying to break away from him.
Psalm 2 Commentary: New Testament References
Now, I’ll also add that this psalm is referenced several times in the New Testament. And when it’s quoted in the New Testament it’s not talking about David or Solomon. It’s talking about one of their descendants, according to the flesh. Christ! And later on we’ll briefly explore those passages that speak of Christ from Psalm 2.
Psalm 2 Commentary: Universal Rejection of God and His King
But for now, let’s get into the details of Psalm 2. Because we can’t even hope to understand how the New Testament is using this psalm unless we actually know what it meant to its original author as delivered to its original audience. So, we’ll read the first section again – verses 1 through 3
KJV Psalm 2:1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, 3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
Why Do the Heathen Rage?
Let’s look at verse 1. Who are these raging people? They’re given the label “the heathen”. You could also say Gentiles. You may have heard the Hebrew word goy or goyim. That’s this word. And it simply means non-Jewish people. That’s who’s raging. Non-Jewish people.
Well, what does “raging” look like anyway? How does one rage? Well, it’s hard to easily tell because this word is used only here as a verb. In its noun form it simply has to do with gathering as a group. Which seems rather neutral of a term. But the context of Psalm 2 is anything but neutral.
So, these non-Jews are gathering together as a group. And we can only assume that their purpose is evil.
And the People Imagine a Vain Thing
Alright – let’s move on to the second line of verse 1. Now we’re not speaking of the “heathen” anymore. We’re speaking of the “people”. Now, this term can describe people in general – like Proverbs 11:26 where THE PEOPLE curse the one who withholds bread from them. But this word can also refer to an ethnic group or groups. Like in Genesis 25:23 where the Lord tells Rebekah that two PEOPLES would be separated from her body – the Edomites and the Israelites. Two “ethnic groups.”
So, which one is it here? I believe it’s speaking of ethnic groups or nations. The word “people” is in parallel with the word “heathen”. Again, “heathen” are simply non-Jews. And therefore, “people” or “ethnic groups” would be closely related to that concept.
So in other words, all sorts of non-Jews and the ethnic groups which they comprise are in view here. Now, what are these ethnic groups doing anyway?
They’re imagining a vain thing. The word “imagine” is one that you’ve seen before in the psalms. But you might not know it. It’s actually the same word that’s translated as “meditate” and is what the blessed man of Psalm 1 was pictured as doing. These ethnic groups are also meditating. They’re setting their mind to something. They’re plotting and scheming and hatching something in their minds. They’re speaking of it and ruminating on it. Well, what is the object of their meditation? Unfortunately, not God’s word. Rather, they’re meditating on a vain thing. In others words, they’re plotting and scheming and yet all of that activity is just useless. It’s futile. It will come to nothing. And God will see to it that that’s the case.
And the psalmist could give us the content of their meditations at this very point in the psalm. But he doesn’t, yet. He wants to dwell a little while longer on the developing rebellion of these groups and individuals. He’s heightening our concern for their activities and attitudes.
The Kings of the Earth
And now in verse 2, we’ve gone from speaking of larger groups of people like “heathen” and “people” to more specific individuals, smaller groups, subsets of those larger groups. To begin, we’re directed to think about the “kings of the earth.” Their identity is pretty obvious. They’re simply world rulers. In David’s case in Psalm 2, they were the nations who opposed Israel and his own God-sanctioned rule over them.
And what are these kings pictured as doing? They’re standing. That’s the word behind “set” in verse 2. But obviously their standing is charged with rebellion. The word translated as “set” here appears in Joshua 1:5. That’s where God promised Joshua that no one would be able to STAND before him – there’s that word. That is, no one would be able to RESIST Joshua. And that’s just what we saw in that book when we studied through it. But that’s just what the kings of the earth are attempting to do here. They’re “resisting”!
Now, there appears to be another group of individuals in view in verse 2. There are these “rulers”. Now, this word translated as “rulers” (RZN) appears 6 times in the Old Testament. Every single time, it appears parallel to the word “kings”. So, it’s safe to say that these two titles of “kings” and “rulers” are likely speaking of the same group. That’s parallelism. Kings rule. That’s what they do.
Well, what are these rulers up to? The kings are resisting. And the rulers – this same group – are taking counsel together. They’re conspiring. Now, this word is used in Psalm 31. There, David is saying that his enemies are doing this very thing – conspiring – and their intent is actually to take his life. But what are they conspiring to do here in Psalm 2? Who are they against?
These people are resisting and conspiring against none other than the Lord God of Hosts! Can you imagine the futility of this kind of behavior? It reminds me of the book of Revelation where Christ comes back on a white horse. And he’s coming to rescue Israel from their assailants. And he’s not alone. He’s coming with the armies of heaven. You can’t beat that kind of army. And yet, the ponderous part of it is that the assailants of Israel actually face Christ and are ready to fight him! It’s madness to fight the immortal God. But that’s just what the enemies will do in the end times. And it’s exactly what we see happening in this psalm.
Against the Lord and His Anointed
And – you know – the animosity of evil people so often is not directed at God alone. It’s often directed at his human representatives. In Psalm 2, the kings and rulers of these non-Jewish nations are conspiring against both the Lord and his anointed one.
Who is this anointed one? Well, the concept of anointing is basically having oil poured on you. A number of positions in ancient Israel involved being anointed physically – kings being one such group. So, I believe this is speaking of the Davidic king – David, in particular. The surrounding nations are opposing his rule over them.
Let us Break Their Bands
So, the non-Jewish nations and the kings who rule over them are gathering together. They’re meditating and scheming. They’re resisting and conspiring against God and his earthly representative. But, what’s their plan? What are they meditating on? What do they want to do? Verse 3.
They want to break the bands of David and his God. They want no more of the restrictions that the rule of God and his king place over them. These bands or restrictions are viewed by these nations as oppressive. They’re unwelcomed. They need to be broken asunder like Samson did with some of those ropes that Delilah put on him. And – seeing as they have no need of such restrictions – they’d be happy to cast them aside.
Isn’t that the way that lost people tend to view God’s rules? Isn’t that the way your own flesh feels about them? Oh, the chafing. Oh, the complaints. The accusations of oppression. This is nothing new to our day and age. This is the way it’s been since the fall.
Psalm 2 Commentary: God's Reaction
Well, how would you feel if you knew that people were reacting this way toward your attempted leadership of them? We’re actually told how God reacts. Let’s read verses 4 through 9.
KJV Psalm 2:4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. 5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. 6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. 7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
We’re first of all told of God’s physical position. He’s sitting somewhere. Here in Psalm 2, he’s viewed as sitting high above everyone and everything – certainly above these puny riotous nations.
And from his vantage point where he sees and knows everything perfectly, he takes an action that can seem a little odd to us. He laughs. Does he find their rebellion humorous? No, not at all. Look at the next line. The Lord, the Master, Adonai – he will have them in derision. And that phrase “have in derision” simply means that he’s going to mock them. Does that fit with our conception of who God is? We know that God is love. But can we also let him be as tough as he reveals himself to be? He’s not playing around. The rebellion of individuals and nations against his plans and people don’t sit well with him. He is supremely patient and loving. And every single one of us deserves his mocking and scorn. But he’s also gracious and not willing for any to perish. These nations are hardened against him. And so, he laughs at and mocks them.
But that’s not the end of his reaction to this rebellion. Verse 5. He speaks. But his speech is not gentle and peaceful – not to these hardened enemies of his. He will speak to them in his wrath. We’ve seen this before, but the word “wrath” really can mean “nostril”. The idea is that as someone gets angry, sometimes his nostrils will flare and perhaps even get a little red. That’s the way to picture God’s stance towards these enemies. He’s certainly not out of control or sinning in any way. But he is angry at them.
And that angry reaction will cause them some terror. That’s what that word “vex” means. God will frighten them. And he’s pictured as frightening them in his sore displeasure. This word “sore displeasure” speaks of God’s burning glowing anger at these people for their rebellion against him and his king.
And so, God reacts to this international rebellion. He’s angry. He laughs and mocks. And finally he speaks. Verse 6. He points out that HE is the one who appointed this king against whom they’re rebelling. And that king reigns from Zion – or Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter what the angry nations say – God’s determined to have his king rule in Jerusalem.
So, that’s how God is pictured as directly communicating with the Gentile nations that oppose him and his Davidic king – verses 4 through 6. But that’s just one aspect of his response. The other way in which God is portrayed as responding is actually not to the nations, but to his Davidic king. That’s verses 7 through 9.
David is going to recount for us what God had told him. The decree he gave – or his statute or rule. The Lord said to him that David is his son. Now, this may sound a little strange to us. What does this mean? Well, keep in mind that when God made the Davidic Covenant with David he told him that David’s sons would be like sons to the Lord. And the Lord would be like his father.
Now, the NET Bible has a helpful note on this matter as well. It says, “The idiom reflects ancient Near Eastern adoption language associated with covenants of grant, by which a lord would reward a faithful subject by elevating him to special status, referred to as "sonship." Like a son, the faithful subject received an "inheritance," viewed as an unconditional, eternal gift. Such gifts usually took the form of land and/or an enduring dynasty.”
So, God is declaring that David is a faithful subject of his. And his inheritance as such a subject includes being given these raging heathen and even the ends of the earth as his possession, if he but asks for them. That’s the closeness of God’s relationship with David.
And God tells him what to do with these heathen. You know – you may have wondered if inheriting these heathen was actually a blessing or maybe more of punishment for the Davidic king. Well, that’s where verse 9 informs us of what God means. David and his successors were to break the rebellion of these Gentile nations. Iron was viewed as the strongest element to the Jews of the Old Testament. And the nations are pictured as being clay vessels. What happens when an iron rod meets a clay vessel? Yeah, the clay vessel loses. And it’s smashed into pieces.
So, that’s God response to international rebellion against him. He responds to the nations in anger and assures them that he is in control. And then he speaks to the one who’s representing him on this earth and assures him that God has given him the right to rule.
Psalm 2 Commentary: How the Nations Should React
Now, based on that pretty forceful response from the Lord, what are these rebellious nations to do? That’s verses 10 through 12. It’s God’s counsel to the rebellious nations. Let’s read.
KJV Psalm 2:10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
The kings of these nations are addressed directly again. They’re counseled to “be wise” or to gain insight, to pay close attention, to be sensible about the matter – in light of the threatenings! The judges – or the ones who are supposed to administer justice in a society – are also addressed. Again, these may be the same people as the ones identified as “kings”. Kings should administer justice. And God counsels them to “be instructed” or to “be warned” or “take advice” or “listen to reason”. By the way, isn’t this wonderful? God could have left it at heated angry rebuke with these rebels. But he stoops and condescends to advise them on the wise choice to make, despite their opposition to him.
God also commands them to serve him with fear or reverence. He’s even in the Old Testament looking for worshippers who would worship in spirit and truth. If they do, they will find joy. Their rebellion won’t do that. Serving the Lord will! And there’s a way to rejoice while worshipping and serving the Lord in fear – that also includes trembling. This is the right reaction of sinners in the presence of a holy and sovereign God.
These kings are – furthermore – to kiss (NSHQ) the son. To draw near to the Davidic king and to submit themselves to him – just like all of Egypt did to Joseph, except for Pharaoh of course.
And if they don’t take this counsel, they’ll perish from their present course of life – their “way” as we have it here. And it really won’t take too much. The threat is real. If the king’s anger is kindled just a little – it doesn’t require much provocation in light of their past and even present rebellion.
And remember the title of the message? Submit to God’s Rule. Isn’t this last line a perfect expression of that? What is it like to submit to God’s rule? It’s blessed – Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. All those who run to him for refuge as you would run to a large rock that could provide protection from a raging storm. That’s the picture. So, don’t rebel against God’s king. It will lead inevitably to destruction. Rather, flee to him and find protection and safety and blessing.
Psalm 2 Commentary: New Testament References
Now, let me quickly address where Psalm 2 appears in the New Testament.
Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5 make it clear that God made the statement in Psalm 2:7 – “thou art my son, today have I begotten thee” – to Christ, the ultimate Davidic king.
In fact, Paul says in Acts 13:33 that the statement that God makes to David about begetting him actually also applies to Christ being raised from the dead.
And then in Acts 4:25-28 applies the first section of Psalm 2 (verses 1 through 3) to Christ’s crucifixion. And in that case, it’s not just the Gentile nations that rose up and rebelled against God’s plans and his anointed one – or his Christ. Even the peoples of Israel were involved in it.
Revelation 2:27 has Christ telling the overcomers at Thyatira that they will rule – though not BREAK, the nations with a rod of iron – JUST LIKE CHRIST RECEIVED THAT KIND OF AUTHORITY FROM HIS FATHER. Where is it recorded that he received that authority? I think Psalm 2:9 is in view.
Revelation 12:5 relates the vision of the woman Israel bearing the child Christ who would rule the nations with a rod of iron.
And Revelation 19:15 again speaks of Christ ruling the nations with a rod of iron.
I wish I had the time to explore how the New Testament uses the Old. But for now, I’ll leave us with those verses to remind us that Jesus the Christ is the last and greatest of the Davidic kings. And he hasn’t even begun to reign in Jerusalem. But when he does, what a day that will be! And it will be truly said then as it is now and has been forever – “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”