God Still Reigns (Psalm 2)
We seem to be living in a time laced with foreign policy nightmares. Admittedly, I know very little about the practical workings of political foreign policy, and I am really just an average guy sometimes not sure what to make of all the complicated news stories. Recently in The Wall Street Journal and again at Politico.com, I read articles about a new super weapon created by the U.S. military. It’s called an MOP, which stands for Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The “bunker buster” bomb has received a “facelift” as talks with Iran have developed. The MOP is the U.S. Government’s “Plan B” just in case Iran violates what seems to be the inevitable nuclear deal. Our military knows of multiple nuclear facilities in Iran; however, the ones that concern them the most are those that the natural eye cannot see—those hidden underground or beneath mountains. Enter the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which has the ability to burrow 200 feet into the earth and even through 60 feet of concrete before it detonates to destroy whatever surrounds it. To be honest, neither “Plan A” nor “Plan B” sound great to me!
In our own country, the Supreme Court of the Unites States (SCOTUS) has been handing out significant decisions left and right: national healthcare legislation was upheld; state bans on same-sex marriage were deemed unconstitutional, and most recently in today’s (6/30) The Wall Street Journal, the justices rejected the Obama administration’s environmental agenda because they felt the EPA had not been thoughtful and thorough enough about the costly effects such regulations may have on our economy. Whether you look at the Supreme Court justices themselves, our two major political parties, or simply spend a few minutes perusing social media comments from average Americans like you and me, it seems clear that we are nation deeply divided—made up of polar opposite worldviews leading to vastly different ends and decisions.
It is in the midst of all this chaos that I invite you into Psalm 2 for a moment. Take a breath. Set your mind on the Lord and his rule, and receive his peace in a world gone mad.
Psalm 2 is a royal, coronation psalm in which we are given an exposition on the relationship between God the King and his chosen human king who mediates God’s rule for the people of God. The psalm itself does not tell us the author; however, the prayer of the believers in Acts 4:24–31 reveals to us that David spoke these words by the Holy Spirit:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed”—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Throughout the article, we’ll return to this New Testament interpretation and application of Psalm 2, but for now, let’s get a handle on the Psalm in its original Old Testament setting. The Psalm may be organized in this way: (1) The Calculated Coup of the Nations (vv. 1–3), (2) The Confident Candor of the Lord (vv. 4–6), (3) The Comprehensive Clout of the Lord’s Anointed (vv. 7–9), and (4) The Calculated Consequences toward the Nations (vv. 10–12). As you can see, the Psalm comes full circle—beginning and ending with the activity of the nations—however, the beginning arrogance is stifled by the ending warning, and the rule of the Lord and his Anointed should cause a course correction, or else the nations will experience God’s wrath. Although we know that David is the author of the Psalm, we are less sure about the specific occasion that prompted the writing. It is a coronation psalm, and by measuring the content, we can assess that there must of been some conflict between Israel and its (newly?) coronated king and the surrounding nations. We do know from the end of 1 Samuel and from the beginning of 2 Samuel that Saul’s reign ended and David’s reign began in the midst of warfare. Further, Solomon’s coronation does not seem to have taken place during international conflicts (see the early chapters of 1 Kings). So, could David possibly be commenting on his own coronation? It is possible. One other thought that I have about the setting for David’s writing is that I think it is possible that King David wrote this psalm once he received the covenant from the Lord to forever bless his lineage with a king on the throne of Israel. Perhaps, upon hearing and believing the Lord’s covenant with him, David penned this psalm about all the future royalty that would come from his offspring. I think this may better explain the content. David was always a man of war (1 Chron. 28:3), so he may here in the psalm be speaking generally from his experience about the Israelite king’s conflict with the surrounding nations, anticipating that his offspring will share his experiences. Of course, David throughout his rule experienced the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of international threat (Psalm 2:4–6; cp. 1 Sam. 17:44–54). By the time the Lord makes his covenant with David and his household (2 Sam. 7), David could surely utter the words or Psalm 2:7–12 with experienced confidence in the Lord’s favor toward his anointed king.
The Calculated Coup of the Nations (vv. 1–3)
The first thing we need to realize when it comes to the international rebellion against God and his king is that it is not accidental. It is carefully calculated. We are sometimes far too “nice” when it comes to those who are are obstinate and hateful opposition to the Lord and his rule, even when we know that their behavior is not at all accidental but purposefully calculated and measured. Notice the text. The word “rage” in verse 1 of the ESV Bible refers to an eager, noisy, raging, roaring assembly. They are passionate in their gathering against the Lord. Further, the second half of verse 1 demonstrates that the people are calculating. They plot; they set traps and snares; they devise violence—all against the Lord. Peter Craig argues that the “peoples” is better understood as “warriors” because of the context in which the word is used. So, verse 1 shows us that the international attitude toward the Lord and his rule causes them to assemble their eager warriors to game-plan a strategy of opposition and rebellion. In verse two, the leaders of all the nations are united in their opposition to the Lord and his rule. All of these nations having innumerable conflicts of their own find unity in one thing—their opposition to God and his rule. The kings stand firm in their resistance to the Lord’s rule, and they take counsel with one another across international lines. They corporately scheme against the one they view as a common foe. Notice that their devices are not merely aimed against the Lord, but also against those who affirm and represent his authority and rule. We may ask, “What is the result for which the nations hope?” What exactly do they hope to gain by rebelling against the Lord? Verse three answers this question, which was first posed in verse 1—they want their freedom from God. They want to be rid of him. Charles Spurgeon in The Treasury of David interprets their words,
Let us be free to commit all manner of abominations. Let us be our own gods. Let us rid ourselves of all restraint.
He goes on,
However mad the resolution to revolt from God, it is one in which man has persevered ever since his [fall in Adam], and he continues in it to this very day. The glorious reign of Jesus in the latter day will not be consummated until a terrible struggle has convulsed the nations. To a graceless neck, the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light. We may judge ourselves by this: Do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us?
Among the nations and at the core of their raging against the Lord Jesus is a sore rebellion bent on being free from his yoke. Consider for yourself today, are you seeking to free yourself from God and his rule in your life? Or are you finding life and peace under his lordship and rule? Are you willing to be the Lord’s slave and servant? Or do you long to be free of the Lord and want to “cast away his ropes”? Have you cast your lot with the Lord and his King or with the raging, scheming assembly of the nations?
As mentioned earlier in Acts 4, we see this international raging fulfilled in the united execution of the Lord Jesus. Herod, Pilate, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees—all united, putting “lesser” conflicts aside in order to free themselves from God’s rule and God’s King.
The Confident Candor of the Lord (vv. 4–6)
What is the Lord’s response to the nations’ ranting and raging? Verse 4 is offensively comical toward the nations. First, notice that the Lord doesn’t even get out of his seat. He doesn’t stand; he is described as the one who sits. He sits as if there is no battle strong enough to spur him to action. The nations have assembled and schemed, but the Lord takes no military action. He sits. He also sits in the heavens. The place of his sitting is the first thing that reminds us that the nations may have “gotten in over their head” here. He sits above the earth, which ruler among the nations can claim such a throne? From his throne, the psalmist gives us the first verb of action—the Lord laughs. This is an unconcerned laugh. It’s that moment when opposing sides are matched up, and it is clear that the only appropriate reaction from the stronger opponent is mockery. There is no underdog story that will develop here. The Lord laughs. Now, understand that he is not laughing at the weak, the humble, the broken. He is laughing at the arrogant, at those who are calculating in their rebellion against him. The word picture of verse five is important. The words “wrath” and “fury” refer to the redness of God’s nose. The story of Scripture characterizes God as the “Long-nosed One”; that is, he is a God who is slow to anger. It takes a long time for the tip of his nose to turn red, a long time before his burning anger shoots from his nostrils. However, here in Psalm 2:5, God’s anger has reached the tip of his nose—there is nowhere for the nations to hide from his wrath and fury. He will decree judgment upon them with the words of his mouth, and he will hasten to terrify them with his burning anger. And what exactly will the Lord do? Verse six explains to us, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Despite all of the nations’ ranting and raging, the Lord will establish his rule among his people. Nothing can stop him. Spurgeon comments again here,
. . . despite your malice, despite your tumultuous gatherings, despite the wisdom of your counsels, and despite the craft of your lawgivers . . . He has already done that which the enemy seeks to prevent. While they are proposing, He has disposed the matter. Jehovah’s will is done, and man’s will frets and raves in vain.
Turning again back to Acts 4:24–31, consider how many thought that the crucifixion and death of Jesus would be the end of him. The nations “raged” against God and his Son with their calculating and cunning, but remember that they were really only doing “whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). God would transform their evil raging into the atonement for the sins of the world, and he would do more—conquering both sin and death through the resurrection so that he could establish his Son as the eternal King, the Son of David forevermore, whose kingdom will never perish (Daniel 7:13–14).
The Comprehensive Clout of the Lord’s Anointed (vv. 7–9)
David is no doubt thinking of God’s faithfulness in his own experience as Israel’s anointed king. Further, if we assume that David is writing the psalm after God made his covenant with him, then David may be thinking about more than just himself. He may also be thinking about the line of kings from his house. Further still, we know that Scripture progressively reveals to us the final Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. So, when we read in verse 7, “You are my Son,” we may see the personal connection to David, the covenant connection to the Davidic house, and the ultimate connection to the Davidic Messiah. Peter Craigie writes,
At the heart of the covenant is the concept of sonship; the human partner in the covenant is son of the covenant God, who is father. This covenant principle of sonship is a part of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel. The covenant God cares for Israel as a father cares for his son (Deut. 1:31) and God disciplines Israel as a father disciplines a son (Deut. 8:5). The focus of the Sinai covenant is the relationship between God and nation; in the covenant with the house of David, the focus is narrowed to a relationship between God and the king, but the concept of sonship is still integral to this covenant. Thus God, through the words spoken by Nathan, declared of David: “I will be his father and he shall be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14); David, in return, could say to God: “You are my father” (Ps. 89:26).
The word “begotten” at the end of verse 7 carries the idea of “being brought forth,” not merely “birthed,” and not the idea of “created out of nothing.” The idea is that the Davidic king is established and coronated by a divine initiative to bring him forth. Craigie also comments how each coronation served as a renewal of God’s promise, where he would remind the descendent of David that he was God’s son. Therefore, the Davidic king has comprehensive clout because of the one who brought him forth and gave him kingship. He also has clout because of the access given him by God. In verse 8, the Lord says to the king—“Ask of me, and I will make. . . .” The son has the ear of the father. Notice what is to be granted to the king, “the nations” and “the ends of the earth.” If you consider the history of the Israelite kings, there are always two ways in which they go about expanding their rule and influence—(1) they throw their lot in with the nations, or (2) they remain loyal and trusting toward God. Remember the Lord Jesus was tempted in a similar way, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:8–9). The Lord Jesus had the opportunity to inherit the kingdoms of the earth apart from the road of suffering; all he had to do was throw in his lot with the enemy of God. Instead he replies, “Be gone Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matt. 4:10). The very ones that rage against the Lord and his anointed will be turned over to God’s King by a simple prayer request. We know that this will ultimately be fulfilled at the second coming of King Jesus, but even David in his day experienced answers to this request as he loyally followed the Lord. In order to possess the ends of the earth, the Davidic king is given authority and power to overcome the nations. God’s king will be provided strength to pulverize the raging nations and bring them under subjection to God’s rule.
Considering the way the early believers in Acts thought of their place in God’s story, notice their prayer, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” These believers understood God would “give them the earth” as they continued to proclaim the gospel and do the works of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The warfare has shifted as God moves his rule to the unseen, spiritual realm, transforming people in to new creations from the inside out through the gospel and by the Spirit. One day at his coming, his rule will be comprehensive—over heaven and earth, over the seen and the unseen. He will have one not only a geographical kingdom, but a spiritually loyal people as well.
The Calculated Consequences toward the Nations (vv. 10–12)
Finally, the Psalmist returns to the nations in order to warn them. The confident candor of the Lord and the comprehensive clout of his anointed should stir wisdom and caution in the hearts of the rulers of the earth. They should change their ways by turning from their ranging and turning toward the Lord in service and reverence; they should rejoice at the thought of the Lord’s rule; they should be humble toward the Lord’s rule; they should do homage and kiss the Son—the Lord’s anointed one. This is the “or else” of the psalm. If the nations remain rebellious toward the Lord’s king and rule, then they will face the wrath of the Lord’s anointed. Instead, they should be wise, be warned, serve, rejoice with humility, and worship the Son. All who make this turn from among the nations will not be disappointed—“Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). Spurgeon comments,
The more thou troublest thyself, or art troubled by others for Christ, the more peace thou hast in Christ . . . To make peace with the Father, kiss the Son.
Notice how God responded to the early Christians in Acts as they prayed, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They were serving; they were rejoicing with humility; they had “kissed” the Son. God became their refuge. He demonstrated his matchless power to them. He equipped them to take the nations with the gospel by filling them with his Spirit and by providing them boldness to speak the gospel message. We live in days when the nations, and even our own nation, is raging against God. It is not an accidental rebellion, rather it is strategic and calculated. Remember the confidence of God in such a scenario. Remember the clout of his Son. Preach the gospel to the nations because we have been shown mercy and grace, and weep over the potential consequences that will fall upon a people should they not turn and “kiss the Son.”