Commentators view Psalm 1 & 2 as introductions to the entire psalter. Think of them as twin pillars through which you enter the rest of the collection of psalms. These two psalms are setting the scene for what you’ll find farther in.
And what do you find farther in? The psalms are the songs of the people of God who are walking by faith.
Some have to do with God Himself – “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good”
Some have to do with me – “Why are you cast down O my soul”
Some of them have to do with God and me – “my heart longs for you”… O God, why are you so far from me?
Some have to do with God and others and me. “God, my friends have forsaken me.”
So there’s a lot in the psalms that’s experiential, personal – what the psalmist is up against, what he’s feeling.
So far, no surprise. When we think about the religious life, or the spiritual life, or the Christian life, or the life of faith, we tend to think of our experience with God, our feelings, our interactions with others in the light of God’s opinions etc.
But also there’s Psalm 2. One of the pillars that leads us into this collection of songs about walking with God by faith has to do with God and the nations. Or more specifically, God and the rulers of nations. God and politics.
And since Psalm 2 functions as part of an introduction to the psalms as a whole, we can expect that there will be much in psalms having to do with God and the political powers. And that is indeed what we find.
From noticing that 1) the psalms are the songs of the people of God who are walking by faith in this world and that 2) the psalms have much to say about the political powers – – we conclude that the life of faith has a political aspect to it. The people of God are not meant to be so otherworldly that they’re ignoring or even diminishing the importance of the political systems of the world. No, we are to walk with God in the nation under the rulers.
There are four stanzas to this psalm, each relaying different political realities:
Stanza 1: Rulers and citizens are attempting to break away from the rule of God and His anointed King.
Stanza 2: God is awfully unimpressed with this defiant “sound and fury,” mainly because He’s already installed His own King from the place of His dwelling.
Stanza 3: And a King not in name only. God has decreed that His King be given supremacy over all the world’s political power and lands, and that He be given the satisfaction of subduing or shattering his enemies. This development only awaits a word from the King.
Stanza 4: Because this is already arranged, the rulers of the earth are urged – not just formally but from their hearts, enthusiastically – to make peace with the King from Zion. Even to find refuge in him.
Let’s read the first stanza:
2 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.”
The nations seethe and protest against Creator God.
Specifically, the rulers of the earth work together – form coalitions, enter alliances – in order to strike out a trail leading away from the rule of Lord and His Anointed King.
The policy-crafters, the gatekeepers, the directors of markets, the story-tellers holding sway over people’s attentions, the educators and entertainers who are shaping the minds, the influencers, the law-makers – all are working together – and they might not identify what they’re doing this way, but nevertheless – they are working together to come out from under the rules and definitions of God and His Messiah.
The narrator of this psalm looks out onto a world that isn’t just in trouble, isn’t simply misguided or heavy with bad actors; rather he says the world is in a state of rebellion.
Since there’s no historical event attached to this psalm, and since alongside of Psalm 1 it forms kind of a two-pillar entrance into the whole psalm book, we assume that this psalm is describing how things are perennially. Every generation is attempting to leave behind the authority of God. One generation might have progressed farther down the path, but it’s always the same project: break loose from God.
Not true of every government worker, and its not to the same degree in different governments, but there’s always this stream running through the earthly powers: the educators are shaping minds to assume that it’s smart to break away. Policy makers and intellectuals are redefining old words that bind to God’s truth. The story tellers are imagining a good world where God is absent. Bureaucrats administrate in such a way that leaves God out: ignores his word, or confuses and complicates his laws, keeps godless people in power, frustrates the intentions of those who would rule justly in the fear of God. Etc
Because they live among and under the sway of those who are breaking free from God, the righteous have always been frustrated, often oppressed, often angry, often scared, worried for their country and even worried for their and their children’s survival.
How does God react to all this?
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.”
To the rebellion, God’s response is set down in four words: laugh, deride, wrath, fury. To laugh and be furious at the same time is tough to pull off, but the character of God is vast enough to contain a lot of emotions at once.
If we just heard that God laughed, we might think of his reaction as from a grandpa – shaking his head and saying, kids these days…
But this folly has also warranted God’s wrath – He takes this world seriously; He takes the conduct of people seriously; creation and nation forming is His idea, His project. And His project is being resisted, undermined! So, though He’s unthreatened to the point of amusement; He’s also enraged.
A mature understanding of God understands that God both laughs and is enraged at the world-wide rebellion.
After his laughing, God speaks. What will He say to this?
What He says has to do with the King He’s already installed. The rulers of nations are straining to exert their independence. And God says, in effect, ‘Too late, I’ve raised up a King in Zion, that is, while the world has been raising a ruckus, all along where I dwell and reign I’ve been at work on a King of kings.’
In the next stanza we hear from that King:
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[b] them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
I will tell of the decree. The readers, the worshipers, the people of God are being let in on a decision that the Creator has made. We get to overhear what the Creator said to this Anointed King.
Just think of it: Most of the world has never read these words. A sliver of the population has read them and thinks they don’t matter. But to some God has given to hear really buy in to this decree, and thus they know which way history is going.
God tells the Anointed King, You are my Son.
Ok, that claim, You are my Son, brings us to our five minutes of theology. Please follow carefully here:
God made man, male and female, in His image. Humans were to image God, to reflect Him like a Son does a Father. Man was called to be like a mirror turned just a bit, a mirror between God and the Creation. Man would reflect God into the creation and the creation back to God. Man was to reflect from God the wise and loving dominion of God into the creation. Also, man was to reflect back to God the worship, thanksgiving, exaltation of God from the creation.
As you know, Adam failed in this calling to image God. Instead of reflecting the rule of God into the creation he distrusted and disobeyed his Lord, God. Instead of reflecting the creation’s praises back to God, he used the creation to hide from God.
The image bearer distanced himself and the creation from the Life-giving Creator. From the designated lord of creation death spread into the creation. Talk about missing the mark!
Thousands of years after Adam’s initial defiance, the Creator began His mission to bring humanity, and through humanity the rest of creation, back to himself, back to their calling as image bearers, away from the sin the now permeated every part of man and the death that filled the creation. He chose Abraham and his descendants to be sons of God, restored image bearers, to fulfill the calling that Adam failed at.
A thousand years into this project of restored image bearing with Abraham’s descendants, another development: One of the descendants of Abraham, David of Judah, becomes king of Israel in Jerusalem. A place also called Zion, the place of God’s habitation.
And when it came about that David wanted to build a habitation for God, God replied that Hewould build him a house, a dynasty, and that his son and kingly descendants would be His, God’s, Son – 2 Samuel 7:12.
So out from the sons of God there is a Son, the Anointed Ruler, the King of Israel, the Man who would be the model image bearer. This Son of God would stand as head of Israel between God and the world, reflecting the rule of the Father into the world and the worship of the world back to the Father.
Which brings us back to our psalm 2, which was used as a coronation song in Israel’s history as the new descendant of David, Anointed One, Son of God came onto the throne. The coronation of the Son of God – here called a begetting: God sourced this – sent a message to the world’s rulers: Rail against the authority of God all you want, there is already – today! – a King installed by whom God will eventually rule the nations of the world. A King of kings and Lord of lords. A Son of God who bears the image, ruling in God’s behalf.
And the rule of the Anointed One eventually means the downfall of the rebellious rulers. The Creator says to His Son, “Ask of me.” Come on, let me do this for you. I want to give this to you, to honor you, to see you honored. I’ll crush your enemies. No, actually, I’ll let you have the satisfaction of breaking and dashing them into a thousand unrecognizable pieces.
I’d like to turn your attention to Romans 1.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…
The gospel here is that, by His resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth has been identified as the preeminent Son of God, the One bearing the image of the Father, the Son of God out of the lineage of David. And now Paul is commissioned to go out into the nations of the world and tell citizens of every nation that the Uber-Lord, the King of kings, has been identified and that their first obedience must be to him.
This Son of God who perfectly bears the image of the Heavenly Father restores humans to their full humanity as sons of God. They through Him pick up their vocation as image bearers!
Notice that the Resurrected Son of God has opened up a day of salvation to the rulers and peoples of the world, before the day of smashing. The kingdom of God has come and it’s time to repent, to turn from the rebellion and to the King.
Which brings us to the final stanza of application:
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.
In final stanza the narrator turns to the rulers again.
“Kiss the Son” is analogous to the old tradition of kissing the ring of a ruler. A gesture that shows obvious respect, submission, deference.
You grasp the point of this last stanza. To the rulers of the world who are so bent on leaving God and ignoring His King, there is no apology, there is no diplomacy offered.
Rather, get with the King’s program. And not just going through the motions, on the outside. But, “rejoice with trembling,” – celebrate from your heart the King and his authority without ever losing sight that the One you are celebrating is a transcendent King whose reign will know no end.
What do we do with this psalm? We have come to believe, we’ve been baptized into the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Not just that He’s divine but that He’s the King through which God will rule the nations of the earth. And yet this psalm is directed to rulers, and not many (maybe not any) of us are those. So what do we do with this?
- Christians should care about the course of nations, their rulers, their policies.
Our God is addressing the rulers of the world, giving them warning. Thus the people of God are being instructed to pay attention to more than just their private situation, their family. We walk before God in the context of nations and authorities; it’s a kind of hubris to act as if God is ignoring all that to only address me and my immediate concerns. Or that the Creator of the world and arranger of nations simply cares about disembodied souls and not policies and court judgments and political alliances.
2. In Psalm 2, God is addressing and warning rulers, not abolishing the category of rulers.
The concept of governing states is God’s idea and Christians should not be known for being dismissive of it. Moreover, Christians should honor their rulers, not out of intimidation but because the King of kings says to. Moreover Christians should pray for rulers.
3. We should remember that Jesus is King.
To us, He’s a Friend, but not just a friend. He’s our Elder Brother, but more than that. He’s a King. His word comes out of a mouth not of an opinion writer but a King. His is a commanding and authoritative word. Our public worship, our private prayers, our listening to his word, our conduct, our thoughts about him, should reflect this paradox: Rejoice with trembling. Let’s rejoice with reverence. Let’s cherish him without being sentimental. Not casual, not dour… but joyful reverence, as befits a Transcendent King and Elder Brother.
4. Our lives should be a warning to the rulers of the world.
Most of the rulers of the world won’t read this psalm, and so will miss the warning to them. But by our lives conforming to the King of kings, we are sending an unspoken warning to the various rulers of the world and preparing them to meet God and His King. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
By our care for the poor, our concern for all the small details of real justice in the everyday, our striving to live at peace with all people, our honoring the king, our love for the brotherhood, – – we are testifying of a deeper and higher authority than of any earthly government.
But more than unspoken warning, we in a democratic republic have the opportunity, the responsibility, to make known this warning to the rulers.
Remember, although there might be some overlap between a party and the cause of King Jesus, ours is not the cause of the democratic party or the republican party. But neither is our cause strictly that souls be saved. We care about righteousness in the body politic because our King is the King of kings and the nations. We should care enough to say something.
So we don’t just live a certain way but we speak a certain way. We keep up with the issues and familiarize ourselves with them. And then we speak up – through the vote, through town meetings, through newspaper opinion pieces, through social media, – as much as we have opportunity we warn the powers at various levels and speak of true righteousness in the authoritative name of Jesus Christ.
5. In testifying and warning of King Jesus, our posture is as redeemed sinners who have taken refuge in the King.
It’d be easy to get taken up with this idea of “warning every man” and grow to forget that the rebellion had in times past found lodging in your own heart… and still in your personality and habits there are outposts of that rebellion.
We shouldn’t look in shocked horror at the rebellious nations and rulers. Come on! We’ve been there and we still spend some moments there. We are former rebels who have come to the great, good thing that God and His Son are loving, generous, merciful, the opposite of petty, filled with grand plans for adopted sons, I’ll say it again…generous. And we have come to take refuge in Him – His love, His word, His promises, His people. Especially in his death!
We relate to current rebels as former rebels, and we should easily sympathize with the foolish reach for independence from God.
Our message is: I know what you’re trying to do, because I’ve tried to do the same thing. But it never works for long to defy God, because there’s already a fixed, permanent authority structure at work in the nations of men.
And, it’s all unnecessary. He’s a God you can trust. This King loves you to the point of ultimate sacrifice. Lay down your rage and enter into the celebration.