Psalm 2: God Is King Over The Nations Part 2—The Solution

There used to be a gameshow called American Gladiators in which amateur athletes competed in ridiculous tests of strength against professional “gladiators.” The culminating showdown was always a duel atop raised towers where the leading contestant faced down a gladiator, each wielding a Q-Tip shaped weapon to knock the other off. The usual contestants had a level of athletic ability to remain on top even when they got smashed. If we imagined that I was competing though, the audience would simply watch in terror to witness how badly they knew I would be destroyed. Everyone would ask, “Why is he even trying?”

In Psalm 2, the psalmist recounts how the nations rage against God and his messianic king; but God and the king know the sovereign divine decree of victory. This means blessing is found only in God’s king. Because God has designated this king as his plan for victory, and because of who this king will be, God finds the nations’ attempts at raging against him laughable. The psalmist looks at the nations more like this, asking, “Why are they even trying?”

When interpreting a psalm for its fullest meaning, we have to consider three questions. First, what original circumstances gave rise to this psalm? In other words, why did the psalmist write it? Second, how does it apply to me? God has given us this songbook for our instruction, so each psalm should come home to us for its instructive value in the Christian life. Third, how does it point us to Christ? Being about the king, the Psalter is ultimately about Jesus, the true king, who proves to be the substance of every psalm. As Christ himself was delivered through the means of grace in every administration of the covenant of grace, so he is applied to believers—of old and new economies—as we sing these songs that were inspired to be about him.

This second essay in our series about Psalm 2 thinks about that second question: How does Psalm 2 help us in the Christian life?

A Rhetorical Question

Psalm 2 opens with a pointed question: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” It is easy to take certain assumptions for granted when we read a statement like that. We should, however, consider the nature of this use of “why?” What sort of why did David put before us here? It could be a question of true concern: “Why are they doing this to me?” Astonishingly though, the psalmist is not worried about these threats and seems more confused than concerned.1

Throughout Israel’s history, they might have asked this question in a sense of concern rather than confusion. On numerous occasions, the world loomed large against God’s little nation, when Israel on its own strength would assuredly have been destroyed. Certainly, some Psalms do teach us how to pray when afraid . . . but not Psalm 2. This Psalm calls God’s people to lift our heads above the horizon of what appears to be the case by human standards and to trust God’s promises with confidence.

The Question’s Rhetorical Force

Psalm 2 prompts us to consider our hearts as we look at the surrounding world. Truly, the world is doing some things that could be very worrying. Clearly, the psalmist was also surrounded by situations that could have been worrying. But he was not troubled. He was confused that the nations would even try.

In our time, we are pulled directly into this Psalm’s mindset and context. Here and now, God summons us to consider our troubled horizons in two perspectives. First, yes, we are called to pray realistically for help in dire times. But we are also called to know that God is with us and has made promises to his people. The nations plot in vain to overcome God’s people. In reality, they are mere sparrows pecking at an army tank.

David means to bring home to God’s people that we should respond to raging nations with confidence in the Lord. God has decreed that he will install a king in Zion. That king’s capability causes God to scoff at his enemies.

Grounds for Laughter

The reason the psalmist was confused by the nations’ attempts to plot against God is spelled out in the two responses in verses 4–9. As part two in this series outlined, the first response in verses 4–6 is God’s. God’s reaction to the nations underscores the psalmist’s confusion at their plotting.2 God laughs. The tumults of the world appear, from our perspective, overwhelming and frightening; but when considered from the heavenly viewpoint, we remember that our God holds the hearts of kings in his hands and he directs the world’s affairs, and when the wicked think that they have found a way to outwit him and overcome his people, God shows his sense of humor.

There is a famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where a thug catches Indiana Jones in the street and starts swinging his sword in such a menacing way that most would be terrified. With a smirk, Indiana Jones calmly draws his gun and shoots his enemy. This swordsman was confident in his power, so much so that he believed displaying it would make the hero cower. The reality was that he had no idea what sort of power was against him.

The point is that evil often overestimates its ability because it rests its confidence in its own strength. They forget there are powers that are not obvious, but which often stand behind the righteous. Psalm 2 shows that ultimately the one whom God supports will be the victor. It matters not how many schemes his opponents devise; God is the king over the universe and will bring victory to his anointed.

God does not laugh without reason, as verses 5–6 explain: “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.’” He knows the nations’ efforts are silly because his wrath against sinners has motivated him to set his king upon Mount Zion. It is the coming of this king that is in view in Psalm 2.

Connecting the Dots

Christian, have you been afraid recently? It strikes me whenever I consider the Old Testament situation that the prophets spoke within a context where hope was needed. They were worried about what the nations were planning, and more so what God’s own people were planning. Psalm 2 tells us that God’s solution is his king who would lead them in righteousness and protect them.

Are you worried about what the world is planning right now? Well, God’s people have long had those concerns as the nations rage and plot. Scripture reminds us that despite appearances, their raging has always been in vain. God has a strategy that will overthrow sin and its reign in this age. It may have appeared that the nations would win, it may appear as if they might win, but God sits in heaven laughing. He knows who his messianic king is. We will explore that in our final installation in this series on Psalm 2.


  1. Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic Press, 2011–16), 1:202–3; Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 163.
  2. Ross, Psalms, 1:204–5; Waltke, Houston, Moore, Psalms as Christian Worship, 162.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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