With tremendous realism, the second Psalm depicts the rebellious condition of the present world, demonstrating the obdurate opposition of fallen human beings towards their creator. It also describes God’s ultimate triumph and future glorious reign on earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That He will eventually rid the universe of evil and replace it with righteousness is a great encouragement to believers. It assures us that the trials that we face will inevitably give way to the King of king’s glorious reign.
The psalm divides into four stanzas composed of three verses apiece. They may be outlined thus:
Or, as brother T. Ernest Wilson delineated it, this way:
‘There are four speakers, one in each section:
Note: It is the answer of the Holy Trinity to the anarchy of man’1
The first two psalms function as an introduction to the entire book. As one commentator notes: ‘Psalm 1 deals with the most urgent individual matter; you must know where you are going and must be sure you belong to the congregation of the righteous. Psalm 2 says that you must know where history is going; you must see the whole show; you must understand that the world has been promised to the Messiah’2 More succinctly, Henry adds: ‘As the foregoing psalm was moral, and showed us our duty, so this is evangelical, and shows us our Saviour’.3
The psalm begins with a rhetorical ‘why?’ incredulously asking how the Gentile nations can be so foolish as to tumultuously rage against the Almighty’s perfect rule. Franz Delitzsch avers that ‘The mischievous undertaking condemns itself, it is groundless and fruitless. This certainty is expressed, with a tinge of involuntary astonishment, in the question’.4 One of his contemporaries agrees, writing: ‘Their insurrection is at once causeless and hopeless’.5 To purposely oppose the Lord is the height of arrogance and sets the stage for one’s own destruction.
The ringleaders of rebellion are ‘the kings of the earth’6 and ‘the rulers’, v. 2. They ‘imagine’ – alternatively rendered ‘devising’ NAS, ‘meditate’ ASV, JND, or ‘plot’ NKJV – ‘a vain thing’, v. 1; however, their mental exertions and insidious scheming are destined to come to nothing.7 Yet this is the flowering of the iniquitous idea whose seed is found in Genesis chapter 3 verse 5: ‘Ye shall be as gods’. Cowles unpacks its true character, declaring: ‘Alas! for the folly and the guilt of such rebellion! It is precisely sin – sin in its very nature and essence; the heart lifting up itself against the perfectly reasonable authority and most righteous claims of the infinite God, and none the less for his inexpressible goodness and perfect purity; none the less because he is our Great Maker and Father – the glorious giver of every good. Against such a God rebellion is simple madness – the madness, not of real insanity, but of supreme folly’.8
Their perverse thinking sees God’s commands as overly restrictive and pines for an atheistic freedom from divine constraints, Ps. 2. 3. Since the garden, Satan has peddled the lie that the creator is against mankind and wants to unnecessarily burden them with oppressive demands. They fail to see that His cords are ‘bands of love’, Hos. 11. 4, and ‘His commandments are not burdensome’, 1 John 5. 3 NKJV. Rejecting God-given restraints inexorably leads to sinfully self-destructive behaviour. How much better to heed Christ’s summons: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’, Matt. 11. 28-30.
God responds to this frenetic human wilfulness with derisive laughter.9 How can He be so dismissive of their insurrection? Verses 6-7 provide the answer: He has installed a special messianic king on Mount Zion – one who will eventually judge the earth. ‘Yet have I’ forms the central part of the psalm, turning from man’s vain usurpation of power to God’s invincible will. As Perowne explains: ‘And in the words BUT I, we have the central truth of the Psalm. The “but" is to be explained as referring to an unexpressed “ye may plot”, or some thought of the kind, in the mind of the speaker. It is God’s own answer to them that oppose Him. I, the pronoun is emphatic in the Heb., the King of heaven and earth, have set my own King, my Son and my viceregent, on the throne …’.10 More than just a mere human deliverer or a powerful angel, this monarch is God manifest in the flesh, John 1. 14, and is the eternal Son of God, Heb. 1. 5. Despite the opposition of despots like Herod and Pilate, Acts 4. 25-28, the resurrected Christ, 13. 33, has been vindicated and is destined to put all enemies under His feet, Eph. 1. 22. As Paul later explained it: ‘And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead’, Acts 17. 30-31.
Psalm 2 verses 8 and 9 envision the time when God gives His Son the nations as His inheritance, and the latter forcibly imposes justice on mankind. This will occur when Christ returns to reign from Jerusalem in His millennial kingdom, Isa. 2; Rev. 20. He will ‘break them’ – or some prefer the Septuagint’s ‘shepherd them’11 – with ‘a rod of iron’. This latter object was a royal sceptre but in this case it is used as a disciplinary instrument. Revelation frequently quotes this psalm, and especially likes this imagery of Messiah pulverizing His enemies as if they were fragile pottery, Rev. 2. 27; 12. 5; 19. 15. Such a picture of the Christ runs counter to the popular unassertive, spineless image of Jesus – a super tolerant sage who condemns nothing and nobody. But this is a fictitious caricature of the Saviour, who saves people from sin – not for sin! As Olsen affirms: ‘Some may say “I want a God whose love is everlasting; whose mercy is unending; but whose wrath is non-existent”. Such a God is the production of a distorted mind. He is neither the God of creation nor the God of the Bible. A God who can sit silently by while the earth quakes and reels like a drunken sailor, opening its jaws to devour helpless men, women and children, can sit in the heavens and laugh against man’s foolhardy efforts to drive Him out of the universe’.12
Surprisingly, the psalm ends with a gospel entreaty, calling on these rebellious nations to learn wisdom, by submitting to and serving the sovereign Saviour, vv. 10-12. The final line in particular is a beautiful beatitude declaring the happiness that flows from trusting the Lord. Psalm 2 has had to graphically describe the hideously depraved human condition. Yet it ends by returning to the theme of blessedness that Psalm 1 began. This can only occur by humbly submitting to God’s anointed Saviour-King, the Lord Jesus. As Grant succinctly said it: ‘One sanctuary refuge is there only. None from Him; nowhere but in Him. Happy all they who take refuge there’!13
T. E. Wilson, The Messianic Psalms, Loizeaux Bros., 1978, pg. 13.
Dale Ralph Davis, The Way Of The Righteous In The Muck Of Life: Psalms 1-12, Christian Focus, 2011, pp. 27-28. [Italics original].
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1994, pg. 744.
Franz Delitzsch, ‘Psalm 2’, in Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 5, Hendrickson, 1996, pg. 54.
A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, Cambridge University Press, 1906, pg. 8.
The phrase ‘kings of the earth’ occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament with six of these in the Psalms: 2. 2; 76. 12; 89. 27; 102. 15; 138. 4; 148. 11. A careful examination of these references demonstrates the supremacy of the Messiah over these terrestrial potentates.
The Hebrew text dramatically paints the scene with purposeful verb usage: ‘The tenses of the original in vv. 1, 2 give a vividness and variety to the picture which can hardly be reproduced in translation. Rage and take counsel are perfects, representing the throng as already gathered, and the chiefs seated in divan together: imagine and set themselves are imperfects (the graphic, pictorial tense of Hebrew poetry), representing their plot in process of development. The rapid lively rhythm moreover well suggests the stir and tumult of the gathering host’, Kirkpatrick, pp. 8-9. [Italics original].
Henry Cowles, The Psalms, D. Appleton & Company, 1879, pp. 11-12. [Italics original]. Davis further writes: ‘Whether congresses or parliaments, whether democracies or dictatorships, the root attitude of nations and of the head knockers of this age is: “We do not want this man to reign over us”, Luke 19. 14. This is Psalm 1. 1 to the second power and writ large; this is what it looks like when the counsel of the wicked and the way of sinners and the seat of scoffers goes international’, Davis, pg. 28.
Smith puts it well: ‘The great men of the earth – its political leaders, its scientists, its philosophers – may combine to cast off all recognition of God, but, unmoved by all their efforts the Christ of God “sitteth in the heavens”, and holds man’s revolt in derision. Men rage on earth; God laughs in heaven. Human ideas are employed to convey to us heaven’s contempt of man’s folly’, Hamilton Smith, Psalms, Electronic edition accessed here: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/smith/PSALMS.html#a2
J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, Vol. 1, Deighton Bell & Co., 1883, pg. 117. [Italics original].
For example F. W. Grant; NETmg.
Erling C. Olsen, Meditations In The Psalms, Vol. 1, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1941, pg. 9.
F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible: The Psalms, Loizeaux Brothers, 1897, pg. 21. [Italics original].
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