The Plans of the Nations (v. 1-3)

Imagine that you are standing in a grand ballroom with all of the great and powerful kings, presidents, dictators of the world. After all the pleasantries have been exchanged one leader steps out in front of the pack and takes his place at the podium. And because of his blessing from God this particular leader (and his nation) is in a position to rule and impose their will upon the others. It’s not hard to imagine the other representatives becoming restless and dissatisfied with the leadership and power of this leader among leaders. It also wouldn’t be hard to imagine that some of these leaders would gather together later on at a secluded place and begin to conspire against this leader of ways to gain their autonomous freedom and independence.

This is precisely the opening scene of Psalm 2, an international conspiracy against the authority of God and his anointed king. The conspirators in this case are the non-Israelite leaders and their peoples. Take notice of the sense of irony in the voice of the Psalmist.

[2:1] 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.”

Why would these foreign kings bother? Well, in the Ancient Near East kings considered themselves to be divine rulers. And the picture we get in this psalm is that of foreign kings (god-men) joining together against the one true God and his king. The language “kings of the earth” is meant to portray these foreign kings as under-rulers of the superior anointed king. These inferior kings are portrayed as literally “throwing off” – opposing – their allegiance to this greater king, the anointed one of God. So these foreign kings view God’s rule as bondage. They want freedom. Lastly, the kings always represented their own people. Therefore, what we have here is the whole world, together, asserting itself against God and his king.

This should not surprise us either, are not the kingdoms of this world by nature opposed to bowing the knee to the eternal king of kings? But we learn something very important from human history. Many empires and kingdoms have risen and fallen over time: Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, and so on. In my own lifetime I have seen a few rulers and empires fall – some big some small. The most notable in my own memory is that of Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. From July 1979 until April of 2003 Saddam Hussein was the 5th President of Iraq. He ruled and lived as a sovereign king over his people. Forbes estimated that he was worth 2 billion dollars at the time of his death. During his brutal rule he built more than 70 palaces, many built while Saddam’s people were short on food and medicine. One of those palaces overlooks the ruins of ancient Babylon.

And though he was worth more than 2 billion dollars, he spent his last days of freedom hiding in a dark hole before his trial, before he was hung before an angry mob. Today his grand palaces are empty, architectural shells, a reminder of a king and his fallen kingdom. Now, when we see the image of Saddam Hussein we no longer have fear or concern over what he might do on the world stage or to his own people. Why? Because his rein has ended. Retrospectively we know the end of his story. Well, we also know the end of a much larger story. And so did the narrator of this Psalm. We understand that in the schema of history God determines the destiny of human kingdoms.

This is why the Psalmist does not worry himself over the plans of these rebellious kings and their kingdoms. In fact, he is more astonished that these human kings would gather together against God. Why do these mere men even bother with their vein plans? In light of sovereign God’s plan for human history, resistance is futile, rebellion is irrational. Listen to God’s response to the nations.

God’s Response to the Nations (v. 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.”

Don’t be mistaken – though God is pictured as “enthroned in heaven” he is not distant or removed from the futile attempts of men to reject his dominion. And the Hebrew here could be read as “the one who sits in the heavens as the Lord laughs in amusement at these kings.” But God is not merely amused; the situation generates an action from God. The amusement is in their futile attempt. His anger is at their outright sinful rebellion. This is blazing rage. And God himself pronounces judgment on the assembled conspirers.

But notice what the judgment is. It is not an act of immediate divine punishment – but a reminder of his established king. “The Lord neither negotiates with rebels, nor adjusts himself to suit their demands, but simply reaffirms his royal plan.”[1] God has a royal plan? He sure does, and this is one of the major themes of the bible. And the notion of the kingdom of God and kingship as a theme is quite flexible in Scripture. If I were to ask you to name the most notable or noble kings in the Bible I would expect most to name Saul, David, or Solomon. This is because automatically think about the position of king in title only. But what if I were to ask you to name the first king in function? By function I mean exercising rule and dominion over a kingdom with responsibility. If we shift how we think about kingship Adam becomes the first king.

Adam and Eve were appointed by God to rule and govern the earth on God’s behalf. Adam was to be God’s king on earth – representing God’s rule within creation. In the ancient near east kings would erect their images all over the distant parts of the land to indicate that their authority reached there. This is why Adam was created in the image of God – he was an extension of God’s authority. But by betraying God and obeying the serpent, the royal couple attempted to dethrone God. So while Adam and Eve were commissioned by God to play a central role in building God’s kingdom on earth, because of sin they themselves became the earth’s subjects.

Yet God promises Eve that her seed would eventually crush evil and re-establish God’s kingdom on earth – the kingdom that was scattered at the fall. This commitment represents a form of fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of a blessed linage – more particularly, a seed. And as the family becomes a people and then a nation; God’s promise continues to progress towards kingdom fulfillment. Through the offspring of Abraham God establishes a nation – Israel. Israel was chosen by God to be a nation of priest-kings to represent God’s rule on earth with Moses as their leader. But God was still their king.

Ideally God was Israel’s king and the nation was destined to rule the world on God’s behalf. As ancient Israel grew as a theocratic nation they established judges to rule among the people. But these judges were only temporary. Israel saw that other nations around them had a human king, and Israel wanted a king. So Israel’s request for a king came from a failure of faith in God.

Even though things were not as they should have been God had a purpose for ancient Israel. A purpose tied to his promise to Eve, tied to his covenant with Abraham. But there is one more covenant that God makes with David – and this is referenced in the next section of Psalm 2.

The King’s Response to the Nations (v. 7-9)

In this section it is almost as if the narrator recedes and the king himself takes center stage to testify of the covenant made before God and him.

[7] I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
[8] Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
[9] You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

The background of this passage is the Davidic Covenant found in 2 Samuel 7. In this passage God establishes a covenant with David. And David becomes the king of the united house of Israel.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. [13] He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [14] I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, [15] but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. [16] And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

God established a kingship in the land with Saul, David, Solomon, and so on. God is still understood to be the king of his people, but the human king was to be God’s under-king, mediating God’s justice and laws to the people. Now, when Solomon’s reign had ended we witness a long line of kings that seem to make the situation worse and worse – eventually the kingdom becomes divided. In fact, Israel’s story could be summed up as a cycle of coming to God, falling away in sin and idolatry, and then repenting and returning to God. Nevertheless, there remained a longing for a true and greater king who would rule with perfect justice and righteousness. And all is not lost, because God did make a covenant with David – that his seed would reign. I want you to notice a few things about this Psalm in light of the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7.

First, Psalm 2 is often called a coronation Psalm. In other words, this Psalm recalls the promise made by God to David and his house when he established David as king. The picture you get is of God himself crowning King David at his ceremony and promising that the throne will always be in his family. Secondly, God describes his relationship to the Davidic line in terms of sonship. Such a sonship would have imparted to the kings special power and privilege as well as the responsibility to mediate justice and lead God’s people in His ways.

Ultimately the reign of David and Solomon end. So what happened to God’s promise? Well, it is my belief that the Old Testament does not stand on its own without the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus himself interpreted the Old Testament this way also. Remember when Jesus said:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”

This is why I always teach that when reading the Old Testament you cannot just ask “what does this mean for me?” Eventually we get to that question, but we must ask a few preliminary questions first.  How does this text relate to Christ? How do we relate to Christ? How do we relate to this text through Christ? So where can we find help in understanding Psalm 2 in the New Testament? Well, which one of the gospel accounts what written with an Israeli audience in mind? Matthew. And Matthew picks up on many themes found in this Psalm to show that Jesus is that long awaited King.

In Matthew 1:1 we read that Matthews account is “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” So Jesus is shown to be in the line of David, the seed of Abraham. The promise that Abraham would be given a seed – that was Jesus. The promise that one would come from the line of David – that was Jesus. Jesus has a right to the throne of David.

In Matthew 3:16-17 we reach Jesus baptism and we read that “when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Interesting wording here, right? Jesus is baptized right before he begins his public ministry. Notice the words that God uses here – this is my beloved son echoing Psalm 3:7. The picture we get is much like the crowning of a king. God is proclaiming that Jesus is his son, and the Spirit testifies with his anointing. Jesus baptism was much like his coronation as king. Why do I say this? Well, what is the first thing Jesus proclaims at the beginning of his ministry?

We find the answer to that question in Matthew 4: 17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus is announcing that God’s kingdom has come. He is inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus first act as king is to call his 12 disciples. The number 12 is not accidental. What I believe Jesus is doing is representative of gathering the 12 tribes of Israel under his rule. He is the long awaited king uniting the kingdom, establishing the true and greater theocracy!

Lastly, after Jesus completed his work on the cross and is raised from the grave we come to Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus came and said to the disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In Psalm 2:8 we read that God will make the nations the kings heritage, and the ends of the earth his possession. Jesus proclaims here in the great commission that the nations are his inheritance – all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. And where does Jesus disperse the 12 – to the ends of the earth. For what reason? The disciples where sent to proclaim the gospel, to be a light to the nations pointing to King Jesus. So what about us?

The Nations Proper Response to the King (v. 10-12)

The narrator returns to center stage to issue a final warning to the rebellious kings – a warning founded on the covenant between God and his king.

[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.

The Psalmist exhorts the foreign kings to serve the God of Israel and his Son. The kiss of obedience signifies submission to his rule. Verse 12 indicates the choice. Either trust God and find refuge, or face the anger of God. Serve the Lord. Kiss the Son. These actions show submission and respect to the king Jesus.

Here is the problem with us. God may be king in title but many of us act like kings functionally. In an age that glorifies independence and freedom of the will, we often find ourselves on the side of the foreign nations I this passage. In fact, many in our society believe that true happiness only comes with freedom to achieve personal satisfaction – or freedom from God’s dominion.

We like to establish our own kingdoms don’t we? We like to have dominion and rule over our own wants and desires, and to establish our rein we set our own kingdom rules. If I don’t get what I want, as soon as I want it, and exactly like I want it, someone has broken the law and must be punished. We build our own kingdoms and protect them as tyrants. I don’t want anyone telling me how to run my own kingdom. In fact, I want absolute authority and independence of any other rule. When we have this type of attitude we usurp God’s authority and attempt to exercise dominion over him and his wise rule. We are too often aimed at protecting our little kingdoms, and in doing so we not only subvert God’s kingly dominion over us we also attempt to force others into servitude to be ruled by our selfish desires. This is not the type of willing submission that king Jesus calls for. Consider the indicatives of the Psalm.

Serve the LORD with fear,
Rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
Take refuge in him.

See, when the people of God sing Psalm 2 they remind themselves of how God made David and his descendants to be kings in order fulfill the very purpose for which Abraham was called – to bring blessing to all nations. How can we be a blessing to others when we are only concerned with building or protecting our own kingdoms? Remember, through our union with Christ that we are sons and heirs with him, as we are called in the New Testament “a royal priesthood.” We are sent out as representatives of the king. We are called to be a light for Jesus in a dark world by proclaiming the good news of the King! And the kingdom of Jesus will never fall. So bow the knee and kiss the son.

[1] Alec Motyer, Psalms, 489.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s