Psalm 2: God Is King Over The Nations Part 1—The Situation

An old Scottish tune, Skye Boat Song, about Bonnie Prince Charlie begins,

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing.

Onward, the sailors cry!

Carry the lad that’s born to be King

Over the sea to Skye.

If you are not an aficionado in Scottish war history, this song is about how, after a horrible defeat at a place called Culloden, the young Prince Charles had to flee the shores of Benbecula, taking a hidden route through the Isle of Skye. The song asserts that Prince Charlie had a destiny to be king—born to be king, no matter how much defeat he experienced.

Psalm 2 is also about the one born to be king, though the emphasis lands in a very different place. In contrast to how the Skye Boat Song memorialized Charlie’s birthright to the kingship amidst continual defeat and flight, Psalm 2 reassures us that God’s Son is born to be king to bring certain victory. It provides this assurance by revealing an eternal “conversation” where the Father and Son confer about Christ’s mission as the true David. In this way, it foretold the coming of God’s Son as king.

The main concern this psalm seems to be addressing is: Who truly rules the world? Is it God or the nations in charge of history’s events and creation’s affairs?1 Psalm 2 says that God will send forth a king, as God’s Son, who will have the nations as his own.

The emphasis on God’s victorious king demonstrates why Psalm 2 is part 2 of the introduction to the whole Psalter.2 The Psalter is a book about something. The Psalms are for our instruction. As the opening to the introduction, Psalm 1 shows us that the book is about the law and how we are to delight in God’s instruction through the law. This songbook teaches us about how the godly respond to the full spectrum of experiences and emotions that we encounter in the Christian life in obedience to God. The Psalter is then about the law.

Psalm 2 now presents the king over God’s people who brings righteousness and provides deliverance for all who take refuge in him. The Psalter is then also about Christ as the king, of whom God would have his people sing. It is about the gospel. The Psalter’s twin themes are then the law and the gospel as they shape the Christian life. Psalm 2 spotlights the king as the main figure—even the main speaker—of the Psalms, revealing the king to whom all these divinely inspired songs point. Thus, this essay argues that Psalm 2 instructs us that God’s Son is the king who comes forth as the solution to the raging nations.3

The Outline of Psalm 2

The structure of a psalm always provides insight into the overall purpose for which God inspired it. Psalm 2 has four parts: a problem, two responses, and the outcome.4

In verses 1–3, David (Acts 4:25–26 does ascribe Psalm 2 to David) describes the problem:

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.”

These verses describe the situation that Psalm 2 addresses: the nations are taking counsel to oppose God and God’s Messiah, who is the king.5

Then verses 4–9 outline two responses to that situation. In verses 4–6, the first response is God’s own:

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.”

God looks upon the nations raging against him and his messianic king and finds them humorous. His laughter is not without reason. He found the heathen tumults laughably pathetic, and his wrath motivates him to install his messianic king. The ascension of this king in total victory to the untouchable heights of Zion is the grounds for God’s derisive response to the raging nations.

The second response to the situation of the raging nations, contained in verses 7–9, is the king’s own. The first response was what God said about the king. The second response is what the king heard from God.

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.”

The king’s response is twofold. On the one hand, he replies to the nations as a continuation of the grounds for God’s people to have hope despite the world’s happenings. On the other hand, he is also responding to God. Because God will install his king, the king will recount God’s decree.

Effectually, the responses of God and the king put the raging nations on notice. The psalmist makes that inference explicit and directs it at the opponents who set themselves against God and his anointed in verses 10–12:

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.

This section announces the jeopardy of standing against God and his king. It is a threat. The nations must desist from their present course and delight in the Son. Otherwise, his wrath kindles quickly and he will bring death to all his enemies.

Pointedly, the last line, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him,” is the culminating inference from the whole psalm. This is the main point. Although nations are raging, their efforts are useless. They think they can defeat God, but his eternal counsel has already established the winning strategy. They are dead wrong. They cannot offer blessing or prosperity because blessing is found ultimately by taking refuge in God’s king.

God Works Despite Appearances

When I was in high school, one of the most detrimental teen accusations was that of being labeled a “poser.” Pretending to be something you are not, especially claiming more credibility in that identity than you deserve, was a bad road to travel. The term was mainly applied to cultural markers—the kids who wanted to be skaters took offense at those who wore skaters’ clothing brands; the kids who wanted to be country balked at the city-slickers who donned Red Wing boots and Carhartt jackets. To be found a poser was to be caught out as a fraud.

Psalm 2 uncovers the nations as posers. They present themselves as fierce warriors. They put their fury on display and posture themselves against God. Ultimately, their posturing is laughable before God’s throne. He laughs because he knows who his king is. As we continue to think about Psalm 2 in subsequent installments, we will discover who God’s king is, and why that gives God every reason to dismiss the nations in their silly tumults.

Notes

  1. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 221.
  2. Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic Press, 2011–16), 1:199–200; Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 145–46, 160­–61.
  3. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1:9; Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Psalms, 221.
  4. Ross, Psalms, 1:200; Waltke, Houston, and Moore, Psalms as Christian Worship, 161.
  5. Ross, Psalms, 1:202–4.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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