Lecture 20 - Psalm 2

Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke

Lecture 20: Psalm 2

I. Translation – Psalm 2

We have been looking at accredited methods or approaches to interpret the Psalms. From that we zoom in on a given psalm to provide more details of it. We have already looked at Psalm 4 for the historical approach and Psalm 100 for the Psalm of Praise. We looked at the grateful Psalm of Praise and with the lament psalms. I took a clear messianic psalm that was used in the New Testament with specific reference to Jesus; and to illustrate the liturgical approach I would take two coronation psalms; psalms in which David’s son is coroneted king over Israel. Both of these Psalms are cited in the New Testament, namely Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot [ ־ יהְֶגּוּ ] in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers band together against I AM and against his anointed one:
3 “Let us break their chains, and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; The Sovereign scoffs at them.
5 Then he spoke to them in his anger and in his wrath terrified them:
6 “But I install my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will proclaim the decree; “You are my son; today I give you birth.
8 Ask me, I will give the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 Break them with a rod of iron; like a potter’s vessel, dash them to pieces.”
10 Therefore, kings, be wise; be warned, rulers of the earth.
11 Serve I AM with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss [his] son, lest he become angry, and you be destroyed in [your] way [וְתאֹבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ] for his wrath will soon flare up. How rewarded [ אַשְׁרֵי ] are all who take refuge in him!

A. Outline

This Psalm of twelve verses falls into four stanzas with three verses in each stanza. The stanzas are marked off by different speakers. In the first stanza we hear the nations speak. We hear them say in verse 3, ‘let us break their chains, and throw off their shackles.’ Then we are transported from the earthly courts of the pagan kings to verses 4-6 where God speaks. We hear him speak in verse 6 where he says, ‘but I install my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ The next three verses 7-9, presumably the king is speaking because he is proclaiming a stipulation of the Davidic covenant in which God says to him, and ‘you are my son.’ So the one speaking is the Son of God and that is the Christ and he recites what God told him. In the last stanza, the Psalmist speaks and he is addressing the kings of the earth directly. So the outline of the Psalm is as follows:

I. Hostile Kings Speak: Resolve to Throw off Rule of I AM and His King verses 1-3

II. I AM Speaks: Resolves to Install His King on Mount Zion verses 4-6

III. King Speaks: Resolves to Recite Decree Granting Him Dominion verses 7-9

IV. Psalmist Speaks: Admonishes Hostile Kings to Submit to I AM’s King verses 10-12

B. Setting

The setting of the Psalm is a coronation liturgy because in verse 6, it says ‘but I install my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ Then the king says, ‘I will proclaim the decree; you are my son; today I give you birth.’ The day is the day of his coronation which he becomes by adoption; the king, the Son of God. Another setting is within the book itself as it is part of the introduction to the psalter. Psalms 1 and 2 are an introduction; they have neither superscript nor subscript. They are related in that they have many catch words that relate them. For example, Psalm 1 starts out with ‘blessed is the man who adheres to God’s law.’ So the idea of blessed and rewarding frames the two psalms. There is also ‘to meditate’ in both introductory stanzas. There is the metaphor of ‘way’ with the term ‘perish’ and both employ terms for ‘mock’ in that the kings of earth are mediating on over throwing God’s rule. In verse 1, it is the ungodly who are mocking the righteous in Psalm 2. It is God who is mocking the wicked in thinking the way they do. We have also see in Psalm 1 that the way of the wicked will perish. In Psalm 2:12 you will be destroyed in your way. It is the same language. The editor probably used these two psalms as a way of introducing the book in order to prepare those who mediate on his anthology of petitions and praises and of instruction to interpret the psalms both with respect to the king and to themselves as individuals within his kingdom. There is a double level in interpreting the Psalms; first it is applicable to the king and to use as individuals in our relationship to the king.

There is the setting within the canon itself; the psalm has its fulfilment in Christ and his coronation: when he ascended into heaven and set down at God’s right hand. Note that no historical king extended rule to the ends of the earth, but Christ does. David, at its best, rules from the Egypt to the Euphrates. The Psalms extend that dominion to the ends of the earth. The New Testament identifies this psalm with Jesus, to refer to Christ and his church. Acts 4:25-28 says that, ‘you spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against his holy servant Jesus, who was anointed. They did what Jews power and will had decided beforehand should happen. The irony here: the religious rulers joined the government against Jesus, with Rome, with the peoples of the earth. So they are all lumped together because they are part of the conspiracy against Christ and his church. This rejection of Christ was all part of a divine sovereignty. An early French protestant theologian by the name of Amyrault wrote, ‘we must keep our left eye on the historical king and our right eye on the eternal Christ. So when we interpret the psalms, we always look at the historical and the typology pointed forward to speaking of Christ and the Church as Jesus said, ‘the Psalms speak of me.’

II. Exposition

A. Stanza One – Verses 1-3

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot [ ־ יהְֶגּוּ ] in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers band together against I AM and against his anointed one:
3 “Let us break their chains, and throw off their shackles.”

So, in verse 1 we are told immediately that the setting of the first scene is in a pagan count. They are plotting or conspiring against I AM. The El Armana correspondence dated around 1300 BC reveals graphic descriptions of the plotting’s and intrigues of the petty kings of Syria-Palestine against the Egyptian Suzerain and against one another. We see that this rebellion is worldwide in verse 2 and we see their motivation for throwing off his rule. Their plot will not succeed and he expresses his indignation at their attempt that is doomed to failure because it is against the eternal God and the king that God has installed. He is asking why, but this is only a rhetorical question to express amazement and their stupidity to plot their own death. In verse 1, the nations and the peoples refer to the gentiles. When a new king came to the throne in the ancient near east, the nations would try to test the strength and resolve of that king by trying to overthrow their rule. They do so in order not to submit to his salvation. They conspire and plot and are determined to kill God and his king. Even in these days, the idea of a one world government is always present. They want this to suppress individual conscience and freedom of speech and their desire to live for God. They simply want to get rid of God and the church because the church represents freedom; freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, freedom to testify. It is the reestablishment of Rome’s tyranny. That is where I see the world going, to a one world government. But these plots will not succeed. We have this tension where God allows this evil in order to demonstrate who he is and his victory over evil. This is a universal unified rebellion. He talks about the kings and rulers that represent the nations and peoples that band together. This is in contrast to God in heaven.

They take their stand in battle, banding together to plot how to put their plan into action. Their rebellion is against God (I AM) and his covenant, the God of the Ten Commandments. God revealed himself by his victories over evil and through the revelation. It is against his anointed one. This is a figure of speech that is known as a metonymy of adjunct. The anointed one is the king. There were three scared persons in the Old Testament that were anointed: the king, the priest and the prophet. Anointed in the Psalms refers to the king of which there are several ideas involved. So you had to have prophetic designation. The prophet would designate the person by pouring scented oil from a flash or ram’s horn onto the newly designated king. This would cover his head down to his feet. This happened with the priest also. And so this anointing was the king’s seal of authority. This is what would set him apart. So, if you didn’t have prophetic anointing you weren’t a real king. Solomon had Nathan as the designated prophet who validated his kingship. The minor prophets during the dual monarchy, they will cite the northern and the southern kings, but they will not recite the kings who set themselves upon the throne themselves. In this anointing the king becomes God’s property. Thus everything in the temple is anointed and is part of God’s property. Therefore God’s wrath is incurred when you touch his property; you defile his holiness, his sanctity. That is why David couldn’t kill Saul because he couldn’t touch God’s anointed. By the anointing under Samuel, Saul had become God’s property and David could not touch him. God had to dispose of his property in his own way. David saw this; Saul would either be killed in battle or God would use some other method to rid himself of Saul because David knew that God had also anointed him. This was an ambiguous situation of having two kings anointed. It was also a means of testing David to see whether he would walk by faith and trust God to defeat Saul and not take matters into his own hands. Interestingly, Saul himself said that he was the chief of sinners, because he tried to kill God as he touched God’s anointed Christ.

The third idea of being anointed is that he is now empowered to do the works of the king. It was a picture of the Spirit of God coming upon the king. We saw that Christ had the seal of John the Baptist as all Israel knew that John the Baptist was a prophet of God. Jesus said to his rejecters, why didn’t you believe John? All the people knew a true prophet was in their midst and believe of John’s anointing. Jesus said that John’s anointing wasn’t absolutely necessary but it was done as a testimony to the truth in Jesus. Similarly we also are anointed by the Holy Spirit and set apart. We have the presence of God is our lives and we live by God’s grace with sanctified lives. It is that Spirit of God that is in us that is our seal that we are children of God. We saw that the motivation of the wicked was to throw off God’s rule. For the unbeliever, God’s authority is presence is a restraining bondage.

B. The Second Stanza – Verses 4-6

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; The Sovereign scoffs at them.
5 Then he spoke to them in his anger and in his wrath terrified them:
6 “But I install my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

The second stanza where God (I AM) installs the king on Zion, his holy hill. We learn that God laughs at the situation and God is also angry and finally in verse 6, he installs his king on his throne. He who is enthroned in heaven is sovereign and transcendent in contrast to earthlings. He laughs; one idea is that laugher of justice and righteousness and of the triumph of justice over tyranny. The laugher of righteousness over wickedness and that the tyrant is defeated and the oppressed are delivered. It is used two other times, one in Psalm 37:12 where the wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; but I AM laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming. It is a laugher of the victory over injustice and tyranny and righteousness over wickedness. In Psalm 59:7-8 it says, there they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips – for who, they think, will hear us? But you laugh at them, I AM, you hold all the nations in derision. There seems to be almost a comic aspect to it as God is allowing them to act this way but God will triumph over the evil in the end as righteousness and justice will prevail.

1. Schadenfreude

This raises a question as the problem of ‘schadenfreude’ a German word being very offensively, that we should laugh at the destruction of other people. The Bible tells us not to gloat over the destruction of other people. So this German word means ‘joy at damage’ or ‘joy at seeing other people hurt.’ Christian and non-Christian sensibilities commonly regard Israel’s pleasure derived from the misfortune of others as expressed in Israel’s song of the Sea and in David’s psalms, as an unworthy emotion. In 1852 archbishop Trench of Dublin in his book, The Study of Words wrote: ‘what a fearful thing is it that any language should have a word expressive of the pleasure which men feel at the calamities of others.’ Friderich Nietzsche argued that malicious pleasure is illegitimate and makes one guilty because pleasure is derived from doing nothing. So schadenfreude is a dangerous emotion when injustice is celebrated but not when justice is served, as is the case in Israel’s songs and in Woman Wisdom’s sermon at the city-gate in Proverbs 1:20 where she laughed at the destruction of the fools. John Portman, a profess or religious studies at the University of Virginia, in his recent book, When Bad Things Happen to Others, argued that justice is a virtue and so is the feeling of pleasure when we see lawbreakers brought low. But joy at the triumph of justice is good because this reflects our reverence for the Law. So, it is because God is just and thus rejoices when the wicked are destroyed. So to conclude, schadenfreude when in connection with the triumph of justice is good and is a virtue.

So how does Christ respond to wickedness? He doesn’t laugh at the destruction of the wicked. The reason is, in his first advent, it isn’t the time for justice. As we have already mentioned, we are living in the age of grace. This is well known in the way he handles his inaugural address in fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy from Isaiah 61: the Spirit of the sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted and to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor in the day of vengeance of our God. This is how Jesus launches his ministry in Nazareth by reciting this prophecy and saying that it was fulfilled in him. This is found in Luke 4:16. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. So Jesus sees himself as the fulfilment of this prophecy. What is of interest is what he doesn’t read. In Isaiah, it says: to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. But Jesus changed it to say: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This was not the day of vengeance but instead the day of grace. The time of vengeance is still future.

2. Anger at Sin

I don’t think it is appropriate for the church today to laugh when the wicked are defeated. To me, that would contradict the Sermon on the Mound. You have said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Interestingly, finally, Canterbury took a stand toward homosexuality and silences the Epistle Church. They can no longer participate in the Anglian communion. Those evil Bishops don’t know what they were doing, just like those who put Jesus on the Cross. I think those who favor same sex marriage, really don’t know what they are doing. They are destroying the home. They think they are doing good but instead they are doing evil. I want to pray for their salvation; I don’t want to rejoice when they are defeated. That is not my natural response. We only speak of God’s love in the church but not his wrath. And God’s wrath against sin is very real. Lewis says that these expressions of anger are lacking in pagan literature because Israel had a firmer grasp on right and wrong. The absence of anger against sin is most alarming. I see an absence of anger in our society. This is due to relativity, the lack of absolutes as no one is sure about what is right and wrong. The result is without God and standards, we no longer have absolutes of right and wrong, you are no longer morally indignant because you have no firm grasp of what is right and wrong. Old Testament Jews took right and wrong more seriously. The thought of the righteous Lord – who surely must hate such doings as much as they do, who surely therefore must judge or avenger, is always there, if only in the background.

3. Jesus and Anger

Jesus was never angry in so many words but he did express anger when he raised Lazarus from the dead. He is angered by the situation in that when he raises Lazarus from the dead right in front of Jerusalem and the high priest and the leadership, Jesus knows that it is going to be his death. So I think Jesus is responding to this. Jesus was deeply moved in regard to anger and displeasure. And of course during the cleansing of the temple with a whip driving the money changers out; he overturns the tables and the coins are scattered. This is violent in that it is zealous not necessarily in anger. But the New Testament rarely shows Jesus’ anger. What expressions that you do see are against wickedness. There is a place for moral indignation in the church, but I don’t think it is limited to that. Anger is a tool that God gave us to deal with godlessness. It is also sinful not to be joyful and not to be thankful and it is sinful to return evil with evil.

4. Mount Zion

So he installs his king on Mount Zion. We don’t really know what Zion means except that it refers to the hill between the Tyropoean and Kidron Valleys. It denotes invincibility and the name was used before King David’s conquest and became a stronghold of Zion. Zion is in history but it also transcends history, it is eternal and holy. The installation of Christ occurs at his ascension. I don’t find it in the New Testament that he will return and be installed on earth again as king. In John 16:12-13, it says but when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. Neither is there any reference in the New Zealand that Israel will be gathers together as a political entity after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The New Testament teaches that all Israel will be saved and I think that is at the end of history in Roman 11. John 4:19-24 says that the earthly is done away; we are now is the spirit. Jesus said to the woman at the well, you Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kid of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. And Jesus is now sitting on the right hand of God. And it is from heaven that Christ is now building his church and we come to Mount Zion which is the heavenly Jerusalem and we do that in Spirit.

C. The Third Stanza – Verses 7 – 9

7 I will proclaim the decree; “You are my son; today I give you birth.
8 Ask me, I will give the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 Break them with a rod of iron; like a potter’s vessel, dash them to pieces.”

In this, he recites the decree giving him the right to rule the earth. We have his relationship with God in verse 7 and in verse 8, his relationship with the earth. And then in verse 9, we have his relationship to the nations. He is the Son of God; an adopted son, not biologically begotten. Israel is called son of God and David, whose lineage is well known, addressed God as ‘Father’. Jesus recited the decree that he was the Son of God knowing that they would put him to death for it. In 2nd Samuel 7:12-14, it says that when your (David’s) days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring (Solomon) to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will by my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. This decree was not only for Solomon but was a coronation liturgy for all of Israel’s kings. Christ is the Son of God by tracing his lineage back to Adam. He is the Son of God because he is the Son of David and every king of David’s line was by adoption the Son of God. Christ was the obedient Son of God. And this is what is meant here in the Psalm, ‘Today, I have become your Father.’ Jesus is the Son of God by the Holy Spirit in Luke’s theology, for he was begotten by the Spirit of God. He is the Son of God by his holy nature as from John’s theology. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Remember that Nathaniel said to Jesus that he was the Christ (referring to Jesus), the Son of God. He said this before Peter acknowledged Christ as being the Son of God. I don’t Nathaniel necessarily knew or understood all that he was saying, but what he said was true. The king’s relationship to the earth is an inheritance from the creator of the earth who has the right to give what he created to whomever he wanted. So the creator or the earth said that it was his inheritance. Jesus says that we have all authority but we must pray and ask. This inheritance is an estate inherited from one’s father without payment of a purchase price. And reference to the ends of the earth is saying that it is beyond limited of Abraham’s fief and of David’s empire from the Euphrates to the border of Egypt. We see in Psalm 72:8-11, May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.

Satan on the other hand was not given the Kingdoms of the world, but allowed to rule them until he fell from heaven and Christ defeats him. Then Jesus came to them and said, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Paul says for those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about you adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abby, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. We pray every day: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your loving arms on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: so clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those that do no know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name. In his relationship to the nations, he will break them with a rod of iron.

D. The Fourth Stanza – Verses 10-12

10 Therefore, kings, be wise; be warned, rulers of the earth.
11 Serve I AM with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss [his] son, lest he become angry, and you be destroyed in [your] way [וְתאֹבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ] for his wrath will soon flare up. How rewarded [ אַשְׁרֵי ] are all who take refuge in him!

The Psalmist warns rulers to submit to God’s Son. The relationship to the psalmist is to be wise which gives attention to dangers and be warned. They are to submit to God’s rule in serving him. The relationship to God should be a subordinate position. And we either serve sin and death and the devil or God and the Christ. When we step out from under God’s rule we obey our own passions and allow ourselves to come under Satan’s rule. Our relationship to God refers to a whole way of life. So this is the finish of Psalm 2 and the great coronation liturgy.