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“It is quite impossible now to say what the event was which occasioned this poem. The older interpreters referred it to David, and the attacks made upon him by the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:0). But though the poem was occasioned by some national event, we must not confine its application to that event, nor need we even suppose that the singer himself did not feel that his words went beyond their first occasion. He begins to speak of an earthly king, and his wars with the nations of the earth, but his words are too great to have all their meaning exhausted in David, or Solomon, or Ahaz, or any Jewish monarch. Or ever he is aware, the local and the temporal are swallowed up in the universal and the eternal. The king who sits on David’s throne has become glorified and transfigured in the light of the promise. The picture is half ideal, half actual. It concerns itself with the present, but with that only so far as it is typical of greater things to come. The true King, who to the Prophet’s mind is to fulfil all his largest hopes, has taken the place of the visible and earthly king. The nations are not merely those who are now mustering for the battle, but whatsoever opposeth and exalteth itself against Jehovah and His Anointed.”—Perowne.
THE HOLY WAR
Whilst we ought to be careful, and not fall into the mistake of the mystical interpreters, who see the prefiguration of the Messiah in almost every psalm, we must not fall into the far greater error of the rationalistic critics, who cannot find predictions of the Messiah in any. In nature, types are always thrown off before the archetype appears; outline sketches are given long before the ideal is realised. And we are perfectly justified in finding in the character and history of David the rough outline and prefiguration of the glorious ideal King, whose reign is a reign of righteousness, and whose kingdom cannot be moved. In this psalm we have a vivid picture of The revolt against Messiah.
I. The extent of the revolt.
“Nations.” “Peoples.” “Kings.” “Rulers” (Psalms 2:1-2).
The reign and kingdom of Christ has always encountered violent opposition. The decree is, “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies;” and Christ has ever had to contend with opposition to His generous aims. He has encountered this opposition—
(1.) In all nations—Jew, Roman, Greek.
(2.) In all ranks. “Kings,” “peoples;” monarchs, and mobs have resisted the Christian faith, and joined to crush it.
(3.) In all generations. Christ was rejected by His own age (Acts 4:27); and the pages of Church history are crowded with the records of a warfare that has never slept since the Church was founded; and, unless we misread the Apocalypse, fierce and bloody days are yet before the Church of Christ.
II. The determination by which this revolt is characterised.
(1.) Deliberate. “They take counsel.” They “imagine,” i.e., devise. They ponder in their heart, and bring forth their strongest reasons and most subtle schemes.
(2.) Combined. “They take counsel together.” Strange combinations have been, and still are being, formed against Christ.
(3.) Resolute. “Set themselves.” “Stand up against.”—Prayer-Book. “The word used here is the word used of Goliath taking up his station to defy Israel.”—Kay. A most resolute and defiant attitude. “One would have expected that so great a blessing to this world should have been universally welcomed and embraced, and that every sheaf should immediately have bowed to that of the Messiah, and all the crowns and sceptres on earth should have been laid at His feet; but it proves quite contrary. Never were the notions of any sect of philosophers, though never so absurd, nor the power of any prince or state, though never so tyrannical, opposed with so much violence as the doctrine and government of Christ.”—M. Henry. “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).
III. The secret cause of this revolt.
“Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psalms 2:3).
They rebel against the law of God in Christ. The law of God, as declared in Christ, is a law requiring great denials and sacrifices to men, the foundations of whose nature are out of course; and for this reason it is distasteful to us, and we reject it. “Doctrines would be readily believed if they involved in them no precepts; and the Church may be tolerated by the world if she will only give up her discipline.”—Horne. The yoke of Christ is easy, and His burden light to the penitent and enlightened heart; but to the blind and self-willed the law of Christ is as the “bands” and “cords” which the yoked oxen are eager to cast off. Men may give a score reasons for their hostility to Christ, such as the incredibility of miracles, the faults of Christians, &c., but the final reason for His rejection is to be found in those laws of truth and love and purity which regulate His kingdom, and which are bright as gold and soft as silk to the righteous, but which are to the disobedient and lawless hateful as the hangman’s noose.
IV. The vanity of this opposition to Christ.
1. The unreasonableness of it. It is vain in the sense of being unreasonable. “Why do the heathen rage?” This is a question to which no satisfactory answer can be given. Christ is the most blessed King, and wherever He reigns blessings abound. Why reject Him? It is a vain, foolish act. To all His enemies we ask, “What evil hath He done?” Statesmen are against Him, and yet they cannot shut their eyes to the fact that His religion makes grand nations; philosophers are against Him, and yet they cannot deny but that He has lit up the intellectual sphere with a most precious and benign light; moralists are against Him, and yet they confess His character to be unique and unapproachable in its sublime beauty and goodness. All sinners are against Him; and yet in their deepest heart they know Him to be love, His law to be right, His kingdom to be the kingdom of heaven. To oppose Christ is madness, blind passion, suicidal folly, for He is the sinner’s friend, the Desire of the nations.
2. The uselessness of it. It is “vain” in the sense of being useless. The physical man might sooner hope to free himself from the law of gravitation, than the man moral expect to shake himself loose from the law and dominion of Christ. It is God’s declared will that Christ shall reign, and that all things shall be put under His feet (Psalms 2:7-8). “The day of Christ’s coronation was the day of His resurrection.”—Perowne. (Psalms 2:7.) By virtue of His atoning work He has become the King of kings, and He shall reign for ever and ever (Daniel 7:9-14). God holds in contempt the enemies of His Son (Psalms 2:4). “With the rage and exertion of His enemies the poet sets in beautiful contrast the laughing quiet of his God, who can with one word bring these proceedings to naught.”—De Wette. And all the rage of the unbelieving fails to destroy Messiah’s kingdom. “The ungodly storm and rage against the pious, excite all their counsels against them. But all this is as the stormy, swollen waves of the sea, which rush along as if they would break down the shore, but before they reach the shore they quiet down again, vanish in themselves, or break up with a little foam upon the shore.”—Luther. “The Church is oppressed but not suppressed.”—Moll. And God shall at length cover all Christ’s enemies with confusion and ruin (Psalms 2:9). “He shall break them,” &c. Is not the Jewish nation a signal illustration of this? Nations and men who set themselves against Christ perish. We see here then the utter vanity of all attempts to injure the throne of God’s Anointed King,—Messiah.
The Psalmist concludes:
1. With an admonition. “Be wise now,” &c. (Psalms 2:10.) “Be wise.” Let the princes exalt Christ in their kingdoms, in their hearts; let all know the folly and fruitlessness of resisting Him. One of the Roman philosophers remarked to the Emperor Adrian, “I never dispute with a prince who has twenty-four legions in his service.” “All power is given unto Christ,” and this power is based on love and righteousness, and woe unto those who resist the Saviour-King. When His wrath blazes forth they “perish from the way” (Psalms 2:12). “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44). “It shall grind him to powder,” meant a destruction utter, and hopeless, and everlasting, and without remedy. Ground—ground to powder! Any life left in that? any gathering up of that, and making a man of it again? All the humanity battered out of it, and the life clean gone from it? Does not that sound very much like everlasting destruction “from the presence of God and from the glory of His power”! Christ, silent now, will begin to speak; passive now, will begin to act. The stone comes down, and the fall of it will be awful! “I remember, away up in a lonely Highland valley, where, beneath a tall black cliff, all weatherworn, and cracked, and seamed, there lies at the foot, resting on the green-award that creeps round its base, a huge rock that has fallen from the face of the precipice. A shepherd was passing beneath it; and suddenly, when the finger of God’s will touched it, and rent it from its ancient bed in the everlasting rock, it came down, leaping and bounding from pinnacle to pinnacle—and it fell; and the man that was beneath it is there now! ‘Ground to powder.’ Ah, my brethren! that is not my illustration—that is Christ’s. Therefore I say to you, since all that stand against Him shall become as ‘the chaff of the summer threshing-floor,’ and be swept utterly away, make Him the foundation on which you build; and when the storm sweeps away every ‘refuge of lies,’ you will be safe and serene, builded upon the Rock of Ages.”—Maclaren. “Be wise now.” Fools do that at last which wise men do at first.
2. With a direction. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalms 2:11). With fear, because of His greatness and holiness; with joy, because His law is love, and His service freedom.
3. With a persuasion. “Kiss the Son,” &c. (Psalms 2:12.) “Do Him homage.” His wrath may kindle suddenly, and if it does, we “perish from the right way.”—Prayer-Book. “The power of Christ will be manifested in all, by the destruction either of sin or the sinner.”—Horne. “Blessed are all they,” &c. “Only those who reject the breath of love, feel the iron of justice.”—Moll.
Let Him break the law of sin with a rod of iron, let Him dash to pieces our had heart as a potter’s vessel, but let us put our trust in Him, and He shall save our souls alive.
THE REIGN OF CHRIST
We have here a description of Christ’s mediatorial reign.
I. Its sovereignty.
Psalms 2:6. Christ is here exalted above all kings and nations. His throne is set above all earthly thrones; on His head are many crowns. The supreme power is in the hands of the Messiah.
II. Its authority.
Psalms 2:7. “I will declare what God has decreed.”—Horsley. “The kings of Israel derived their authority from God; they were appointed to execute His laws; and being God’s vicegerents, they were in their official capacity styled gods, or sons of God.”—Phillips. So is Christ’s administration of Divine authority, but in a peculiar and pre-eminent sense. He is not a son of God, but the Son of God. And Christ was not made the Son of God in the incarnation or in the resurrection, but He was in those great events manifested as such. “He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
Christ is of Divine nature; His redeeming work was Divine work; and His mediatorial reign is of Divine authority and force.
III. Its universality.
Psalms 2:8. “His kingdom ruleth over all,” and aims to restore all.
IV. Its irresistibility.
Psalms 2:9. “The enemies of Christ suppose that His sceptre is still a reed, as in the time of His sufferings; but they will be obliged to experience, some day, to their greatest shame, the iron sceptre in His hand.”—Moll.
V. Its graciousness.
Psalms 2:10, &c. Its grand design is to save and bless.
“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
The scientist tells us that the laws of nature are arranged on the principle of antagonistic forces; and it is somewhat thus with the laws of the Christian life.
I. We describe the two states of feeling to which the text refers.
1. “Serve the Lord with fear.” There are two kinds of fear—servile and filial. The latter is indicated here. A noble sensitiveness, an anxious conscientiousness, a salutary apprehensiveness. “With trembling.” “With diffidence. The thing meant is that sort of fear which arises from a man’s diffidence of his own strength and power.”—Horsley.
2. “And rejoice.” Be glad in the Lord, and in His service. “Take satisfaction, joy, and glory to yourselves in becoming His servants. But let it be a holy, temperate joy, fearful of offence, not heedless and presumptuous, verging on the licentious kind.”—Horsley. We observe:
II. These two states of feeling are not incompatible.
Fear and joy are only apparently contradictory. We often see in nature how apparently contradictory materials and forces blend. Oxygen and nitrogen may be spoken of as contradictory gases, but they are really complementary, and, combined in due proportions, make the sweet and vital atmosphere. Attraction and repulsion seem to be contradictory forces, but are really complementary, and their combined action preserves the universe in harmonic movement. Forces, laws, phenomena, which appear contradictory are really complementary, and from their combined action spring the glories and melodies of creation. Thus is it in Christian experience. States of feeling which are apparently contradictory are really correlative. Joy and sorrow, weakness and strength, fear and comfort; these different states of feeling are often co-existent in the Christian heart.
III. These two states of feeling are essential to the security and development of the Christian life.
They not only may, but they ought to exist together.
We ought to fear. Some Christians are distressed because they feel this emotion. They need not. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” The brighter the star the more it trembles. As the needle trembles to the pole, so should our soul tremble to its God
We ought to rejoice. Pliny tells us of some strange tribes who dwelt in caves because they were afraid of the sunshine; we have known Christians similarly afraid of sunshine. Be not afraid of joy. Let Him lead you into green pastures. “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.” “There must ever be a holy fear mixed with the Christian’s joy. This is a sacred compound, yielding a sweet smell; and we must see to it that we burn no other upon the altar. Fear without joy is torment; and joy without holy fear would be presumption.”—Spurgeon.
There must be the two states of feeling, and they must be duly balanced. If we give too much place to fear, it destroys the freedom, nobility, and joyfulness of the soul; if we give too much place to joy, it renders the soul relaxed and light.
And these two states of feeling, completing and balancing each other, secure the true development and perfection of the soul. The laws of nature are arranged on the principle of antagonistic forces, and the constant struggle to maintain the equilibrium fills creation with motion, life, music, beauty, and fruitfulness. So weakness and strength, joy and sorrow, solicitude and comfort, hope and fear, are the antagonistic forces of the soul, and in the constant struggle to secure the equilibrium, the moral nature is being exercised, enlarged, and perfected.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26