Singing with Jesus – Psalm 2: Four-Act Play

2 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, / 3“Let us burst their bonds apart /and cast away their cords from us.”

   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.”

   I 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.”

10    Now therefore, O kings, be wise; /be warned, O rulers of the earth. / 11Serve the Lord with fear, / and rejoice with trembling. / 12Kiss 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.[1]

WHOLE ENCHILADA (Pss. 1-2)

In Psalm 1, we saw the representative blessed man with God’s teaching constantly on his lips. We learned that the only way any sinful human being can delight in Torah, God’s revelation of himself, is by delighting in Messiah Jesus. He alone is the blessed representative man. He IS Torah because he both God and Man.

Psalms 1 and 2 are the gateway to the entire Psalter and they are so closely connected many teachers over the centuries have considered them to be one long hymn. Most likely, however, an inspired editor set them at the front of the collection to form an introduction: Torah and Messiah, law and gospel.

Psalm 1 begins with the word “Fortunate” (or “Blessed”) and Psalm 2 ends with the same word, forming a single theme to the two hymns. Both psalms used forms of the word “mock” or “scoff” to describe the rebellion against Messiah and Torah. The two psalms teach a uniform message: the righteous are fully rewarded, and in the time of judgment they triumph over the wicked. The idea that the righteous prevail over the wicked (Psalm 1) “is fleshed out in salvation history as happening through I AM’s anointed king in Psalm 2. In Psalm 1 the righteous trust I AM to uphold his Torah, and in Psalm 2 the faithful trust I AM to uphold his anointed king” who is the embodiment of Torah.[2]

The verb that dominates the action of Psalm 1 is meditate (to vocalize, to speak, to sing, to mutter, etc.), “on his law, he meditates day and night” (1:2).[3] That verb reappears in 2:2b translated as plot, “Why do the nations rage /and the peoples plot in vain?[4] The moral contrast of Psalm 1 becomes the messianic conflict of Psalm 2. Both psalms prepare the worshippers who sing the psalter together in the temple to interpret all the hymns about God’s anointed king and about themselves as individuals within God’s kingdom. “The Church by its baptism into Christ Jesus is “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” who prays with their king (1 Peter 2:9).”[5]

FOUR-ACT PLAY (Ps. 2)

Psalm 2 was a part of Israel’s coronation liturgy, sung as part of the installation of the Davidic kings. It was a statement that Israel’s king had the sovereign right to rule over all nations because God’s covenant to establish David’s eternal kingship. The Davidic king had a mandate to establish his (and, thus God’s) global rule through prayer. So, Pss. 3-7 are David’s prayers asking God to establish his kingdom despite opposition from his own people (Ps. 3), his own court officials (Ps. 4), and all kinds of evil-doers (Ps. 5).[6]

This second psalm sets forth God’s kingship over all nations with Mt. Zion being his earthly throne, permanently established through the Davidic dynasty, even to the extent that God’s throne and the Davidic throne are one and the same.[7] You can think of the psalm as a 4-act play. Its heroes are God and his Messiah (anointed king). The bad guys are a world-wide confederation of Gentile (foreign, heathen) rulers.

Kings Conspire (2:1-3)

The first act opens in a foreign throne room where heathen rulers are plotting to assassinate both YHWH and his anointed king.  Righteous meditation in Ps. 1 has turned into rebellious murmuring in Ps. 2. Torah is not true freedom to the foreigners, but chains of slavery to be broken. The set for the first act appears impressive. It is a large throne room full of a vast number (nations) of very important peoplekings/rulers.

These are the captains of industry, the military chiefs of staff, the prominent educators, the famous researchers responsible for scientific advancements, the top policy wonks from the largest think-tanks, the best-selling authors and profoundly-talented artists, and the most powerful lawmakers and political movers and shakers in the whole of the world. What chance does a mere meditating “tree” have, a mere king from a tiny backwater nation, a mere man praying to his unseen God? And this tiny nation’s king comes from no line of royal heroes. He was a nobody. A sheepherder with a harp. A poor carpenter conceived out of wedlock from a rural, backwater part of Palestine.

Intimidation is fatal to worship. When we are intimidated, we have traded the true power of YHWH for the false powers lined up against him and his messiah.[8] We have traded appearance for reality. Appearance versus reality is the crux of Psalm 2. It’s the essence of trust. David can see the vast world around him. He knows all the political and military resources line up against him see this pesky little would-be king’s assertion that he is God’s anointed as a mere annoyance. “Let us burst their bonds apart /and cast away their cords from us.[9]

The early Christians knew the meaning of these words, and they included them in one of their earliest recorded prayers: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.” And about whom are these things being said? For truly against Your holy Servant  Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together” (Acts 4:24–27).[10]

That was the prayer of the early Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 3-4) in response to the Jewish rulers who had arrested Peter and John for preaching the gospel of Messiah Jesus. The implication of the prayer is that the Jewish leaders have become the raging, conspiring heathens plotting to destroy YHWH and his anointed king. Like David, the early church saw great powers lined up against them.

YHWH Resolves (4-7)

“What is at issue here is size: we require an act of imagination that enables us to see that the world of God is large – far larger than the world of kings and princes, prime ministers and presidents, far larger than the world described in big books by nuclear physicists and military historians. We need a way …to see the world of God’s ruling word is not an afterthought to the worlds of the stock exchange, the rocket launching, and summit diplomacy. …Psalm 2 answers our need by presenting Messiah (God’s anointed king). …Messiah is God’s invasion of the secular, his entry into the world where people go to school, go to work, got to war….”[11]

This is the second act of our play. Suddenly we hear laughter in response to the muttering conspiracies of the seemingly-impressive army of earthly VIPs. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; /the Lord holds them in derision.[12] God doesn’t trouble himself to go to war with these rebels; he knows any attempts against him and his anointed king are futile. Though a storm of opposition rages around him, he can stand up and shout, “Peace! Be still!” (Mk. 4:39) because everyone and everything must and shall ultimately obey him.

The great, all-powerful Covenant God, I AM, laughs because he has already decreed his Messiah will rule. David is already anointed as king, even if he is hiding in desert caves with a price on his head. The messiah may appear small against the raging nations of the first act, but God is FAR larger than our ability to comprehend his immensity. The one whom God has already crowned must and shall rule over all things. “6As for me, I have set my King /on Zion, my holy hill.” [13]

Messiah Asserts Dominion (2:7-9)

In our third act, we hear Messiah speak. The Torah that is day and night on his lips (Ps. 1:2b) now issues forth as he declares the will of I AM. “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; /today I have begotten you.’[14] This decree is from God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:14-15, where God promises David’s greater son, will be God’s own son:

14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. …15 …my steadfast love will not depart from him…[15]

The Son’s decree shows “three expanding relationships: of the king to God as a son (v. 7), of I AM and his son to the nations as his son’s inheritance (v. 8), and of the king to the nations as their sovereign (v. 9).”[16] The calm in the midst of the raging storm is the Father’s love for the Son. Only those who enter into that Chesed, that steadfast covenant loyalty love will find refuge from the judgment to come.

This Kingdom Covenant is repeated in books I (18:50; 20:6; 21:1), II (45:16; 61:6-7; 72:17), III (78:72; 89:3-4, 20, 29, 35-36, 49), and V (110:1; 132:10-11; cf. v. 17) of the Psalms. It is a central theme of Israel’s hymnbook.  In Psalm 2, act 3, the seemingly-lowly Messiah proclaims his right to rule over absolutely everyone and absolutely everything. He prophesies the Day his wrath will be poured out in judgment on all those who refuse to submit, for his rule is the rule of I AM. Messiah’s earthly throne and I AM’s heavenly throne merge on Mt. Zion (1 Chron. 29:23; Pss. 11:4; 20:2,6; 57:1,3; 76:2,8; 102:16; 110:1-2; 138:2,6).[17] God is both transcendent (speaking from heaven) and immanently present through his Messiah.

Psalmist’s Punchline (10-12)

Act 4 of Psalm 2 is the narrator’s conclusion to these events of muttering rebellion, of I AM’s laughing and wrathful response, and of Messiah’s declaration of sovereign rule over all creation. This seemingly-unimpressive Messiah has I AM’s power to execute judgment, “You shall break them with a rod of iron /and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel[18] (Job. 34:24; Rev. 2:27; 15:5; 19:15; Isa. 30:14; Jer. 19:11).

To the narrator/psalmist, there is only one rational/wise conclusion, “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.[19] At the end of the day, there is only submission to Messiah or destruction, blessedness or judgment.

“LARGENESS” OF GOD

This four-act play is a glimpse into the means by which God conveys his immensity to his creatures: He presents us with his Anointed One, with Messiah. Messiah is God’s person in history; He is God’s invasion into the secular, into the world where we go to school, go to work, go to war, or merely go to Luckenbach. God enters. And He enters IN PERSON. His Word takes shape in time and space and history.

This strikes us as upside-down, that God, seeking to develop within us a sense of his rule’s immensity presents us with an ordinary human being with an ordinary name (David, Solomon, Zerubbabel) in an ordinary place (Zion); God calls that person “my son” and assigns him ordinary tasks like building roads and cities and dealing with foreign ambassadors.  Over the centuries, we hear the mummer’s and their outrage, “But we grew up with him; we know his brothers and sisters; we were in second grade together and played ball with him!” This is no way for God to fix what is broken – a shepherd boy or a carpenter’s son![20]

But when God wanted to show people how his Kingdom was greater than anything they saw around them, he called out local men from local families and anointed them. He was training the people to look for the ordinary and the personal as the place where he initiated his rule and established his sovereignty. People were taught to look not at the murmuring plotting world with its impressive array of rulers, but to the messiah, the anointed one.[21]

The extraordinary thing about this left-handed means of rulership is that it works for those who enter God’s temple in worship (cf. Ps. 73). After centuries of training His people to see his invasion of the world by ordinary men anointed as “little ‘m’” messiahs, he finally sent THE MESSIAH, Jesus of Nazareth. He was as implausible, as upside down as all the rest. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46).[22]Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?[23] In the “capital ‘M’” Messiah, Messiah Jesus, I AM not only entered into history, but he entered it as God IN FLESH! The “little ‘m’” messiahs were types and shadows of Jesus the God-Man. But God’s method was the same: God’s rule comes by way of the ordinary and unassuming through an unadorned person.[24]

In order to see the ordinary and unadorned for the Divine Extraordinary, we must avert our eyes from the earthly throne room of Psalm 2, act one. And we must open our ears to God’s laughter at the pomp and pageantry of fallen men who take the devil’s arrogance so seriously. And when we join in this laughter as we worship the Son, we see with the eyes of trust that every high-flown pretension is just silly posturing.[25]

We have more to learn of Messiah in Israel’s hymnbook. But for now, the psalmist bids us to consider his largeness. God’s Kingdom invades in an unassuming way. But once we enter through the ordinary door, we see THE INSIDE IS FAR BIGGER THAN THE OUTSIDE. Outside, it is an ordinary 4-foot-by-four-foot booth we might pass on a street corner without a second thought. But stop to open the door, and inside it is grand, immense and full of all the wonders of the heavens; it is full of eternity. Messiah Jesus came to live God’s Torah perfectly on our behalf. He came to die the death that all murmuring rebels like you and I deserve. He was raised again and seated on David’s eternal throne in the heavenly Mt. Zion.  All who will but give up their pretense and silly posturing may enter and partake of the immense loyalty love I AM shares with Messiah.

Come and kiss the Son. Come and enter Zion through his ordinary-looking door. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.[26]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:1–12.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 161.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 1:2.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:1.

[5] Waltke, et. al.,161.

[6] Id.

[7] Robertson, 57.

[8] Peterson, 28-29.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:3.

[10] Reardon, Kindle Locations 501-506.

[11] Peterson, 29.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:4.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:6.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:7.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Sa 7:14–15.

[16] Waltke, et. al., 170.

[17] Robertson, 59-61.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:9.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 2:11–12.

[20] Peterson, 29-30.

[21] Id.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 1:46.

[23] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 6:42–43.

[24] Peterson, 30.

[25] Id., 31

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 10:9.