Psalm 2 is considered the original beginning to this first book of Psalms. The book of Psalms is divided into five books that were gathered at various points in Israel’s history. The first two of these books were compiled before the exile, so they have a distinct tone from the following books. Many of the psalms in book one are penned by King David, and describe or are inspired by various moments in his life.
Though many psalms in this book have titles which tell the reader who the author was and sometimes what it was written about, this psalm does not give that information. Because it is about the Lord’s Anointed and is describing a king whom the nations are set against, it was probably originally written about King David. We can also deduct that because it uses the term “Zion, my holy hill” it was likely penned after the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant were moved to Jerusalem.
There is a lot of debate over whom exactly this psalm is referring to as “The Lord’s Anointed.” It would seem probable that this title was intended to refer to David, because he was God’s anointed king and ruled in a time when various nations had set themselves against the nation of Israel. However, much of this text cannot apply to David and seems to be referring instead to the Messiah. I think that it make sense to understand this psalm speaking of Jesus and referencing David as a type of Christ. It is helpful to understand what can be referencing David and how Jesus more completely fulfills these statements.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
The question that begins this stanza could come across as either from a place of despair or informed wonder at the ruler’s futile efforts. We might see despair because the nations are rising up against God, which causes the believer to grieve both for the blindness of those rebelling and because they dare to accuse a Holy God of being something less than that. In reading the rest of the psalm it is easy to see that the author understands that the rebellious acts of these nations will amount to nothing.
It is easy to picture the kings and rulers that this psalm speaks of, because the world is and has been full of leaders who think that they are above or at the least not accountable to God. Yet, we shake our head in disbelief (knowing who God is) at the audacity that these rulers have to question God’s power and authority like this. It is tempting to look at these grand examples of rebellion and overlook the ones that take place inside our hearts each day. All of us have thought in our hearts that we would rather rule a certain area of our life rather than let God have the reign. As the psalm continues we will be reminded what a foolish thought that is.
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
The idea that mortal men think themselves able to challenge God’s authority is so utterly preposterous that God laughs at them! When the text says that God “holds them in derision” it means that He mocks them for their lack of comprehension. We must guard our hearts against pride; we don’t want to be in the place of these rulers.
God turns from His mockery to proclaim judgement, and it comes in a form we might not expect. We are tempted to assume that judgement and wrath would come in the form of fire and brimstone–the destruction of these kingdoms, but instead it comes in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s answer to insubordination is to set up the true King. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules over everything on the earth and in the universe. God’s judgment comes in the form of a King so magnificent, so fit for rule, and so completely qualified to inherit such a throne that no other king or kingdom matters.
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
So far in this psalm we have heard the narrator, the rulers, and God speak, but now another voice is introduced. Because the phrase “You are my Son” is used, it can be a little confusing who exactly is speaking in this section. In a very broad sense these lines apply to David, God’s anointed king, but they find their ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. There are promises here, too, for God’s Son. God will give the nations to Him and break their tyrannical and rebellious regimes down. This is a happy promise that the Father will not hand Jesus a half-gift of nations that are not in submission to His authority, but He will give Him nations whose hard and idolatrous hearts have been broken so that they may serve Christ.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Instead of ending with despair for the rebellious rulers and kings from the beginning of the psalm, a warning and a chiding is extended to them. This reminds us that God’s mercy is long-suffering and forbearing. He delights in seeing hearts turned to serve Him. His wrath is not immediate; He gives warnings and beseeches us to turn from our sin and pride. We should be thankful for this truth.
If we do turn our rebellious hearts to God, we are not left without instruction as to how we are to worship Jesus. We are told to serve Him, fear Him, rejoice with trembling, and kiss Him.When we are spared from the wrath of God, there is no better responses than these. But, when we hear instruction like this we must not tarry, expecting that God’s mercy will last forever. We are told that “His wrath is quickly kindled” meaning that it is sudden and unexpected, so, we need to turn to Him. The warning of God’s wrath shouldn’t make us run away from Him, but instead abide in Him. We are told that we are “blessed” if we “take refuge in Him.”
We live in a world that is contrary to God and set against the authority of Jesus Christ. Our own hearts are bent on rebellion, pride, and self interest. We must pray that God would soften our hearts and turn us to serve, worship, and love His Son. Jesus is the answer for our pride. He is the ultimate ruler who will end any false gods or rulers and all rebellions against Himself. We can thank God for this and seek refuge and comfort in Him.
All Scripture is quoted from the ESV.