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,
“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.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“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.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
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 second psalm is one of my favorites. Like all of the Old Testament, it uses its immediate context to foreshadow and foretell the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4.24-28; 13.32-33). It gives us an image of Christ as a conquering King who will establish His just rule over the earth and crush the rebels who foolishly oppose Him. Our Lord is so powerful that He treats all of earth’s rebellious kings with contempt. In an age dominated by softness and sentimentality about the character of the Father and the Son, it is refreshing to read Scriptures that remind us of God’s firmness, justice, and certain victory.
The second psalm was not first received as a Messianic psalm, though. Our English translations encourage us to read it only as a Messianic psalm by capitalizing the right words, like “Son” and “Anointed.” In its immediate context, though, the psalm speaks of the King of Israel. The nations are the heathen surrounding Israel. This reading of the second psalm is a little more prosaic, a little more literal than the Messianic reading, but it contains a powerful message that we miss if we think that the psalm is only about Jesus. It reminds us that God’s people have a special place in history. Israel was God’s chosen people under the Law of Moses, a signal of hope and of justice to their heathen neighbors. Notice how often, for example, we see Daniel shining his light to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius. In the covenant of Christ, the Church is God’s chosen people. We are the light that shows the world God’s salvation and His judgment. We are on the Victor’s side.
Seen in its immediate context, the message of Psalm 2 is similar to that of Rom 13.1-7 and 1 Pet 2.13-17. The government is God’s government; God anoints the king (1 Sam 16.1-3). Just as the heathen kings of David’s day should have looked on him in wonder and terror, so too should we reverence our leaders and pray for their success. This is far from saying that our leaders are perfect or holy or even acceptable in their personal lives–have you ever looked at the life of King David? We revere our leaders not because they deserve it personally but because the Lord demands it from us.
Whether we look at the psalm as it was received or as we understand it now in the light of Christ, it makes universal claims on us. “Serve the Lord with fear,” the psalmist tells us, “rejoice with trembling.” There is a certain tension in our reverence for the Lord; we are comfortably at home with Him and in terror of Him all at once. It is the tension we always feel under the benevolent care of someone dangerous, perhaps best understood when we call the Lord “Father.” If we are His sons, though, then we can rest assured, for “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”