The world is in rebellion. Thoughtful Christians are caused to ask, ‘Why is this allowed? Is God really in control?’ In the news we hear of terrible rebellion in our own country and in other places. Even if we ignore the news, we see evidence of man’s rebellion against God on every street corner.
Psalm 2 was written as a Royal Psalm. Although it has no heading to connect it with David, Acts 4:24 seems to attribute it to him.1 Psalm 2 is similar to a coronation song. It reflects that situation well.
There is nothing in the Psalm that the people of David’s day would not have applied to the king and his relationship with God. At the time it was written, it might not have seemed Messianic. But psalm 2 must have been included in the Psalter because of a Messianic hope. At the time of canonical compilation of the psalms, the Jews had no king, were having difficulty being independent, and certainly were not ruling others. The early church used this Messianic hope and applied the Psalm to Jesus.
The World Rebels
The psalm opens with a statement of the world’s rebellion against God’s anointed (1-3).
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
The time of the coronation of a new king was frequently a time when vassal states would rebel, or neighbouring states would attack. If this psalm was intended for use at Solomon’s coronation, it would have served as a warning to the vassal states that David had conquered. They could not revolt just because David was dead. It was ultimately the Lord that mattered, not David.
For the compilers of the Psalms the opposition of the nations to God’s people was a very pressing daily problem. They had returned from exile in Babylon, but they were constantly threatened by the surrounding nations. Their freedom and even their lives were frequently threatened.
The situation had not change much in the New Testament. The believers in Acts had firsthand experience with the hostility of worldly people for God’s anointed. Jesus, God’s ultimate anointed one, had been crucified. His spiritual body, the church, was under constant threat.
So, we should not be surprised if we experience large-scale opposition to Christ. The opposition that we face is nothing new. It is what was common throughout biblical history.
God is in Control
As we look about in the world today, it seems that all the world leaders are ruling in opposition to God. Most governments operate in direct defiance of the limitations placed on them by scripture. It is easy to feel hopeless. It is easy to feel as it the world in out of control and that God is ignoring the situation. But this is nothing new. The same was the case when this psalm was written. God is aware and in control despite this opposition (4-6).
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
The line of David was constantly opposed, both by other nations and by many within the kingdom itself. Very few of the kings of Judah came to the throne unopposed. Yet God’s promise to David was not forgotten. His promise to build an enduring house for David (2 Sam 7) came true.
The compilers of the psalms showed great faith by including this psalm. In worldly terms the restored kingdom was nothing. They had no military strength and poor leadership. It was an act of faith to include this psalm from an earlier time when Israel ruled a much larger area.
The New Testament use of the psalm also reflects great faith. The church was not powerful in human terms (I Cor. 1:26-31). Yet the early church believed that God was in control and moving things toward the certain triumph of his Son.2
Despite the rebellion of the nations and all appearances as to strength, the king could take his throne in confidence (7-9).
7I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Each king of Judah was seen as God’s son3 and should have ruled with confidence knowing that he was heir of all things. The king of Judah did not have the strength to overcome the nations around them. But, if they submitted to God, they would be enabled to rule.
The post-exilic Jews often saw this as a promise of future dominance over others. Many of them mistakenly thought it to be an unconditional promise of dominance.
To the early Christians it would have been a promise that, what began with 12 could reach the ends of the earth. They believed that a crucified man would one day have the world bowing at his feet.
We must never forget that our power and hope lies not in ourselves. Christ will achieve, and we can share with him in future glory. We trust in him and must model our sonship after his.
Since God is sure to bless his anointed one, those who take refuge in him will be blessed (10-12).
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.12 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.
To side with the new king was wisdom. Despite his weakness, God was with him. In the canonical setting it refers to those who side with the Messiah. Despite the seeming weakness of the crucified Messiah, it is still wise to side with him.
It is still proper to take refuge in the One who, it seemed (Mt 27:40), could not save himself. For it is he who will ultimately triumph.
We live in an era when it often appears that the world will triumph over God’s kingdom. This psalm reminds us that this deceptive appearance has often been true. Despite the opposition of the nations and even of his own brother, Solomon took the throne and had a long a secure reign. Despite the crucifixion (or perhaps we should say by means of it), Jesus has taken the throne and at his feet every knee will ultimately bow. Submission to the Son of God may often appear foolish in worldly terms. But it is the ultimate wisdom.
1 Some scholars seem to think that Peter is using the name “David” as a name for the Book of Psalms rather than intending to indicate David’s authorship.
2 Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Rev 2:27; 12:5; 19:15
3 2 Sam. 7:4; 1 Chron. 22:10; 28:6; Ps. 89:26-27