Psalm 2: God Is King Over The Nations Part 3—The Strategy

As we have worked through Psalm 2, the question running throughout is: Who rules the world? Are the nations going to overthrow God? For those in the know, namely those paying attention to the message of Psalm 2, the answer is clear. God reigns, and he laughs at his enemies because he knows who he has anointed to be his true king on earth. Who then is that king?

God’s establishment of the king fits firmly into the wider story of the Bible as the event of sending Christ Jesus to be our savior. Since Genesis 3:15, we have been waiting for the seed of the woman to come and crush the serpent—just as this king will break the nations. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that his heir would always reign. Further, God would have a father-son relationship with him.1

This final article on Psalm 2 shows that God can laugh in response to raging nations because God the Son is the messianic king who will bring blessing to those who take refuge in him. The New Testament use of Psalm 2 is vast with sprawling implications. This post, therefore, is a first nod to that truth. It demonstrates the fact that Christ is the king of Psalm 2 rather than providing exhaustive exploration of that truth.

Christ in Psalm 2 Itself

As part two in this series outlined, Psalm 2 is made of four parts: the situation, two responses, and the outcome. That situation in verses 1–3 is the nations’ raging against God and his anointed. The two responses in verses 4–9 are, first, that God laughs at the nations and declares his decree to install his king on Zion, and, second, that the king speaks to recount God’s decree to him to anoint him as king. The outcome in verses 10–12 is that the nations need to come to God’s Son for refuge, lest they be destroyed in the Son’s act of judgment.

With that framework in view, combined with the biblical-theological scope from the introduction about God’s promises concerning the woman’s seed and David’s true heir, the second response in verses 7–9 shows the king himself recounting how God will keep those promises.2 Indeed, this king knows that he comes forth as God’s Son, and that he has the nations as his inheritance. What explains this king’s understanding of the divine decree itself and how is he its fulfillment?

The Psalms are God’s inspired Word about himself and his works to teach us about him and what he has done for us. In unique ways the Psalter at times gives us specially-revealed perspective into eternal “conversations” between God the Father and God the Son. The speakers often give us inspired insight into the happenings of God’s counsel in eternity. Thus, in Psalm 2:7, God the Son speaks prophetically that he will be sent into the world to become king and savior of the nations. In Psalm 2, Christ speaks beforehand about his birth and coronation as king of God’s people.3 The Son knew that he would be the true Davidic heir because with the Father in eternity, according to the one divine will, he decreed it to be so. In holy Scripture, the Son reveals his portion of this part of the divine counsel—he speaks ahead of time to reveal that he is the object of the divine decree about the installation of the messianic king.

Psalm 2 in Fulfillment

Psalm 2 is a prophecy about Christ in the words of Christ himself, and many New Testament passages cite this psalm in application to Christ as it fulfillment.4 After being harassed by the council of religious leaders, in Acts 4:23–31, the apostles quoted Psalm 2:1–3, interestingly to show how the Jerusalem elders and scribes had become raging Gentiles against Christ, the true Davidic king. In Acts 13:32–33, Paul quoted Psalm 2:7 to show that the “today” when the Son was begotten—in the sense that he was coronated as king over the nations—was when he rose from the grave. Hence, Psalm 2 is about Christ at least in that he is the divine king against whom the nations rage.

In some ways, that biblical-theological development is better known today in its application of Psalm 2 to Christ’s resurrection than in its application to Christ as the divine Son, properly speaking. Hebrews 1:5 records that God said to Christ, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”5 Following the promise to David, which Hebrews 1:6 invoked, it was most fitting that the son of David whom God would call his own Son as the king over God’s people would be his natural Son, the second person of the Trinity.6 After all, the Hebrew word in Psalm 2:2 translated “the Lord’s Anointed” is Messiah, which translates in the New Testament as “Christ.”7 Psalm 2 is then about God himself, God the Son, Jesus Christ, coming to his people as our king, not only as Lord of the universe, but also as savior. Hebrews 1 then uses Psalm 2 to demonstrate Christ’s deity.

We should not set these two apostolic uses of Psalm 2 against one another. Psalm 2 is about both Christ as the eternal divine Son and about Christ’s coronation as the firstborn from the grave and as the second Adam for his people’s redemption. These interpretations are compatible and should be held together. As Irenaeus wrote in the second century: “That Christ, then, being Son of God before all the world, is with the Father; and being with the Father is also [near] and close and joined unto mankind; and is King of all, because the Father has subjected all things unto Him; and Savior of them that believe on Him—such things do the Scriptures declare.”8 In the fullness of the divine author’s intent, Psalm 2 is robustly about Christ and his kingship.

Christ is King for Us

God laughs at the nations in their plots because he has a king to defend his people, and that king is his own eternal Son, mighty God himself, ready to step into history to bear his people’s sin as their priest, and to destroy their enemies as their king. His strategy to defeat the nations in Christ is the reason that God and his people should never flinch at the world’s plans for wickedness.

In its place in the introduction to the whole Psalter, Psalm 2 is for our instruction in this way. Many psalms are godly prayers full of lament, acknowledging that the world around us is raging. Psalm 2 sets up the instruction of the whole Psalter by teaching us that even as we endure those tumults and need to learn the godly response to those experiences, we cannot forget that God’s king is on the throne. Since the Psalms are songs, that truth gives us ultimate cause to sing.

In disregard for appearances, that king started on the throne of a manger—an animal’s food trough—and moved to the throne of a cross. In all outward appearance, he was not a threat to the world. God’s opinion is otherwise. At the cross, God’s king has thrown down sin, death, the devil, powers, and principalities. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.

Hence, Christ’s saving death and kingship are not in competition. Psalm 2 reminds us that Christ came to reign for us. In verse 9, this king will bash his opponents to pieces. In verses 10–12, God warns the nations to take heed and listen to his king, lest God’s wrath blaze against them. The nations’ plotting against the Son is as foolish as the psalmist thought because they are stirring up divine vengeance for themselves. We ought to highlight Christ’s kingship and his victory, as the Son who was born to be king. This is wonderful news, since Westminster Shorter Catechism 26 says Christ executes his office as king by “subduing us to himself, ruling and defending us,” and by “conquering all his and our enemies.” We know he bashes his enemies not by breaking their bodies with earthly weapons, but by breaking their hearts through the preaching of the holy gospel.

Christian, as we look to the world outside, take heart. The king is on your side. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12). God has appointed his Son to rule his people on earth and to conquer our enemies, even death itself, by swallowing its sting in his resurrection. Praise God, the king has come. The Psalms teach us to sing that gospel.

Notes

  1. John Goldingay, Psalms, 3 vols. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006–8), 1:95; Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic Press, 2011–16), 1:207.
  2. Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 162, 169–74; Ross, Psalms, 1:207–10.
  3. Saint Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms Volume 1, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 72.
  4. For more extensive treatment of the theological payoff of Psalm 2, see J.V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption (Fearn: Mentor, 2016), 79–94; Harrison Perkins, Reformed Covenant Theology: A Systematic Introduction (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2024), 120–23, 203–4.
  5. Waltke, Houston, Moore, Psalms as Christian Worship, 180.
  6. Ross, Psalms, 1:208.
  7. Waltke, Houston, Moore, 180.
  8. Saint Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. J. Armitage Robinson (London and New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), §52.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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