George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 2

1. Author

David: (a) Only four psalms in Book 1 lack a title. All the rest are “of David”. (b) Acts 4:25.

2. Structure

Aggressive nations and their purpose
God’s reaction
His purpose through the Son
Messiah declares God’s purpose with him
Exhortation to the rebels

The first two psalms, read together, are a fitting introduction to the Book as a whole. There is an impressive series of comparisons and contrasts between the two:

Psalm 1

Psalm 2
Opens with “blessed” (yasher).
Closes with “blessed” (yasher).
Concerns Christ — the one righteous man.
Concerns all those who trust in Christ — the righteous multitude.
Judgment upon ungodly kings and nations.
Judgment upon ungodly individuals.
Closes with “The way of the ungodly shall perish”.
Closes with “Lest ye (the ungodly) perish from the way.
In God’s law doth he meditate.
In rebellion do they imagine (s.w. meditate).
The seat of the scornful.
He that sitteth in the heavens.
The ungodly shall not stand.
Kiss the Son (implying a bowing down).

3. Historical Background

The key to this is 2 Samuel 8. As soon as David was established in Jerusalem, the kings of all the surrounding nations rose up against him as one man: Philistines, Moab, Zobah, Syria, Ammon, Amalek, Edom. But David defeated all of these, and found himself with an empire acquired virtually overnight.

People. This Hebrew word is mostly used of Arab nations.
Kings of the earth. Here eretz = the Land.

Set themselves. A military expression, “to take up stations”.

Against the Lord. These kings were fighting to defend their “gods” from the godly enthusiasm of David!
Cords, for the offering of sacrifice to Jehovah (118:27; cp. 116:3).
Speak unto them. Was a prophet of the Lord (Nathan?) made emissary with this message to all these nations?
Set my king. The Hebrew verb means poured out, or anointed. But David, anointed three times (once at Bethlehem and twice at Hebron), was not anointed in Jerusalem! So he must have known (and also from v. 7) that his psalm would have its truest and most complete fulfillment in the promised Messiah: cp. v. 7 with 2 Sam. 7:14.

My holy hill of Zion. Already dedicated to holiness in 2 Sam. 6.
The Gentiles....the uttermost parts of the Land for thy possession. A temporary fulfillment of the promises to Abraham: Gen. 13:14,15; 15:18-21; 22:17.
Serve the Lord. Men like Hiram of Tyre did just this. Initially the worship of Melkort (the god of Tyre) was modelled on the worship of Jehovah.

4. Messiah’s first coming

There is clear New Testament justification for this in Acts 4:23-28, where v. 1 is given detailed and specific interpretation:

the Gentiles
Kings of the Land
The Lord’s anointed

At the time of Jesus’ trial, for the first time, Herod and Pilate were made “friends together” (Luke 23:12).

Also, Hebrews 1:5 applies the words This day have I begotten thee to Christ when he was glorified to be made an high priest; that is, this day means the day of his resurrection (not the day of his birth; why speak such words to a day-old baby?). Similarly, note Romans 1:3,4. The entire psalm can be viewed along these lines:

Already interpreted in Acts 4.
Take counsel: Coming together as though by appointment: Matt. 22:34; 27:1,7; 28:12; Mark 15:1; Luke 20:20; John 11:47; 18:14.

Together. LXX has the very expressive word used of the disciples in Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12 — homothumadon = “one mind”.
Break their bands. A lunatic determination: Luke 8:29.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh....derision. Acts 4:31: “The place was shaken” with this contemptuous laugh of God! The derision of both Jews and Gentiles (Matt. 27:29,42) against the Lord’s Christ now has its counterpart in His derision against them. “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he pleased” (Psa. 115:3). The “wise” will be confounded by the “foolishness” of the cross (1 Cor. 1:20-31).
Yet have I set my king on my holy hill of Zion. Not fulfilled in the first century except with the alternative meaning “pointed out” (Isa. 53:12).
This day have I begotten thee. See comment at the beginning of this paragraph. This Scripture is quoted along with Isa. 55:3, in Acts 13:33,34 (priesthood and kingship). Both prophecies refer to the Lord’s resurrection. “The sure mercies of David” are cited for their emphasis on “for ever....for ever”, thus supporting “now no more to return to corruption”. It is a resurrection to everlasting glory: see also Rom. 1:4.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee. It was a custom among great kings to give to favored ones whatever they might ask (Est. 5:6; Matt. 14:7). When the most eloquent of Christ’s servants had expounded a gospel for Gentiles and was being stoned to death for it, the Lord was seen “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Why standing, except to ask: “Give me the Gentiles for my inheritance”? And in response, the Father granted permission for the conversion of the chief persecutor so that, through him, the Gentiles might be brought to Christ. And accordingly vv. 10-12 are about the conversion of Saul!

The uttermost parts of the earth. Matt. 12:42 again establishes that Psa. 2 was not fulfilled in Solomon, but belongs to a greater than he.

Thine inheritance. This words draws attention to Christ’s parable of the vineyard in Luke 20:9-20, which seems to be based on this second psalm. In the parable (v. 14) the husbandmen see the heir approaching (Psa. 2:8: the “inheritance”), and they reason among themselves (compare also vv. 19,20: “taking counsel together” — Psa. 2:2): “Let us kill him” (“Break his bands asunder” — Psa. 2:3). This they do (Luke 20:15), not knowing it is in God’s purpose that they do so (Psa. 2:4; Acts 4:28), and the result is that the Lord of the vineyard will come and destroy them (Luke 20:16,18; Psa. 2:8,9). When the parable is completed, Christ next confounds the priests’ spies, who come with their questions. When they are silenced, he proceeds to prove the resurrection (Luke 20:37,38) and the divine conception of David’s son (vv. 41-44) — the two foundations on which Messiah’s right of inheritance is based.
Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. In the first century this was duly fulfilled: Matt. 22:6,7; Jer. 19:11.
The following details are to be noted relevant to Paul especially:

  1. Be instructed, ye judges of the Land: Was Saul of Tarsus one of the “judges” consenting to Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1; 26:10)? Also cp. Acts 5:38,39.
  2. “And he trembling and astonished, said....” (Acts 9:6).

And ye perish in the way. It was in the way to Damascus (Acts 26:13) that Saul “died”, and “rose again” the third day.

Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. This is Paul’s gospel of justification by faith.

The rest of the first century application of the psalm goes with surprising ease and fulness:

  1. Acts 4:31 continues: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled.” This is Psalm 2:4: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” So that experience was God’s laugh of contempt for men’s efforts to smother the preaching of the gospel.
  2. Acts 5:38,39: “Refrain from these men, and let them alone: If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought....lest haply ye be found to fight against God.” The spirit of Gamaliel’s words is entirely that of Psalm 2:10: “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.”
  3. Acts 7:56: “I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This is the only place where Jesus is referred to as standing in the presence of the Father. The psalm says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the Gentiles for thine inheritance” (v. 8). So the Son stood to make his request: “My people refuse to hearken. Then give me the uttermost parts of the earth for my possession.” Granted this request, Jesus Christ proceeds to convert the chief persecutor and make him his apostle to those very Gentiles!
  4. “In the way” there appeared “a light from heaven”, and Saul, “trembling and astonished”, symbolically died that day, to begin life afresh when he came out of the darkness of the “tomb” three days later. Psalm 2:11,12 has this: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling....lest ye perish from the way.”
  5. And the message this new apostle proclaimed to Gentiles was: “Blessed (forgiven: Acts 3:26) are all they that put their trust in him” — justification by faith!
  6. Other details: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (v. 6). The alternative meaning of this verb (besides “anointed”) is “poured out as a drink offering”. This becomes literally true at the crucifixion.
  7. “This day have I begotten thee” (v. 7). Could these words belong to the day of the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem? It is difficult to understand them as spoken to a new-born child. Hebrews 5:5 refers the words to Christ’s priesthood, and Hebrews 1:5 to his exaltation over angels. Both of these point to the time of his resurrection and ascension. Thus, at his second coming Messiah is represented as saying: “The Lord said unto me (in the day of my resurrection), Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”
  8. “The firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18); “Made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3,4: Paul was writing with his eye on Psa. 2 and 2 Sam. 7).
  9. Acts 13:33 is sometimes cited as requiring Psalm 2:7 to refer to the Lord’s mortal life: contrast v. 34: “raised him up from the dead.” This is mistaken. The contrast, certainly intended, is this: By v. 33 Paul proves the resurrection of Jesus; by v. 34 he proves his resurrection to everlasting life — “now no more to return to corruption”. His proof text from Isa. 55:3 is now just right, since “the sure mercies of David” require an eternal king: “for ever” comes three times in 2 Samuel 7:13,16. Paul’s further quote in v. 35 (of Psa. 16:10) confirms this reading of the argument.

5. Messiah’s second coming

This fulfillment, the most important, is fully established by Revelation 19:15; 2:27; and also 12:5 (referring most assuredly to Christ, and not to Constantine!). When will this picture of human rebellion and Messianic authority be fulfilled? Note that Christ is already established as King on mount Zion (v. 6), but as yet the nations feel free to confederate and rebel (vv. 1,2). Note also that Revelation 19 combines Psalm 2 (v. 15) with Ezekiel 38 (vv. 17,18). Thus all three prophecies are to be read with reference to Messiah’s kingdom established in Jerusalem: he is already here King of the Jews, but his authority has not yet been asserted over all nations (vv. 8-10). Any other reading creates real difficulties.

Rage. “Tumultuously assemble” (AV mg.). “ turmoil” (NEB).

Imagine: s.w. 1:2, but what a vast difference in subject! Cp. Ezek. 38:10.
Set themselves: s.w. 2 Sam. 7:16 — but so different in meaning there.

The rulers take counsel together against the Lord. Rev. 19:19. All this is in vain: Psa. 20:6; 45:5.
Let us break their bands. Does the plural mean:
  1. God and His Messiah?
  2. Messiah and Israel?
  3. Messiah and his saints?
Most likely the first.
The Lord shall have them in derision: Isa. 40:15,23.
Break them. The Hebrew is ambiguous. The LXX reads “shepherd them”, and this is supported by Rev. 2:27. The response of each Gentile nation decides Messiah’s attitude towards it — either the firm and wise rule of a shepherd, or the smashing of the incurably rebellious. (The shepherds’ rod — shebet — both protects the sheep and smites the marauders: Lev. 27:32; Ezek. 20:37; cp. Psa. 23:4. Thus it becomes a symbol of government: Gen. 49:10.)

A potter’s vessel, made of the “miry clay” of Daniel’s image (2:43,44). This material, when hardened, is very brittle and easily broken by the disappointed artisan (Isa. 30:14; Jer. 18:6; 19:11; Rom. 9:21-23).
The council of rebellion (v. 2) is interrupted by a warning which only fools would neglect: Be wise now instructed.
LXX has rejoice in him.

Serve the Lord with fear: Phil. 2:10,11.
Kiss the Son. This and anointing and inheritance were all features of King Saul’s coronation (1 Sam. 10:1). But the Messianic king here is in sharp contrast with the failure that Saul became.

Lest he be angry. This word and the word trust are both used only about God. So David knew that his psalm was a prophecy of a divine king.

And ye perish. “Lest....your way perish” (1:6).

The way... of righteousness (LXX), quoted in Matt. 21:32.

Blessed are all they that put their trust in him: Asher (happy) are all they who flee for refuge in Christ” (s.w. 57:1-3). This closes Psa. 2 just as Psa. 1 began, and rounds off the first two psalms as a fitting introduction to the hymnal of Holy Scripture. One man sits alone is silent meditation (Psa. 1), while another must dwell among fierce enemies in a world on the edge of holocaust (Psa. 2). But both ways of life, at one time or another, belong to Christ. So the message of the Father remains the same for each of Christ’s followers:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5,6).

6. The “Messiah”

David was the Anointed (v. 2), or “Messiah”, set by God over the house of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4) and then all Israel. We are justified, then, in reading David’s experiences into these psalms. But even the most conservative expositor sees at each step how far short of the mark David’s life comes in fulfilling these prophecies.

A survey of some other “Messiah” verses in the Psalms:

  1. 18:50: God gives great deliverance to His king, and shows mercy to his Messiah, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
  2. 20:6: “Now I know that the Lord saveth His Messiah.” This is widely recognized as a coronation hymn.
  3. 28:8: God is the strength of salvation of His Messiah. Notice how salvation is always associated with the Lord’s Anointed.
  4. 84:9: “Look upon the face of thine Anointed (Messiah).” This psalms ends, as Psalm 1 begins: “Blessed is the man....”
  5. 89:38: “Thou hast cast off....been wroth with thy Messiah.” David foresees the removal of the crown and the end (temporarily) of his royal line. But the earlier portion of this psalm (vv. 26,27) pictures the rule of the Messiah, David’s seed, in words reminiscent of 2 Samuel 7:12-14.
  6. 132:10,17: David speaks of God’s Anointed again in terms of the Davidic covenant. This psalm pictures the ark of the covenant coming to Zion! Compare 2:6.
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