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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Psalms 2

 

 

Verses 1-12

Psalm 2

[Note.—Jerusalem appears to be threatened by hostile powers, a confederacy that took advantage of the succession of a young and inexperienced monarch, to throw off the bonds of subjection and tribute. David, Song of Solomon , Ahaz, and Uzziah have each of them been regarded as the hero and theme of the poem, but not one name satisfies the conditions of the psalm. Probably the psalm expresses an ideal view of the future. The psalm is lyric. It is based on the words of Nathan, and is referred historically to the time of the coronation of Solomon. The ancient Jewish commentators unanimously describe the Messianic interpretation of this psalm as a common one. Modern Jewish commentators interpret the song of David exclusively. In Acts 4:25 the psalm is referred to as Messianic; in Acts 13:33, Psalm 2:7 is referred to as accomplished in the resurrection; and in Hebrews 1:5 it is regarded as intimating Christ"s proper divinity. No doubt is entertained by the closest investigators, that in early days before the Christian era the psalm was regarded as Messianic. It has been attempted to explain it in reference to David, Song of Solomon , Zerubbabel, and Maccabees; but the whole scope of the psalm is too vast for any such limitation. The early Christians ascribed the psalm to David. Some critics of authority attribute it to Song of Solomon , some to Hezekiah, some to Isaiah , or his times.]

The Kingdom of Christ

"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us" ( Psalm 2:1-3).

Why do the heathen rage? Because they are the heathen. The explanation of an action is to be found in character. The heathen, understanding by that term all lawless and unorganised communities, or communities uninspired by the spirit of reverence and justice, are without religious intelligence, sobriety, self-control; therefore they "rage"—literally, they bluster, and they foolishly suppose that noise is power. Thus the explanation of all thing"s of a human kind is to be found in the quality of human character. No solidity of character means excitement, restlessness, fury, aimless striking, and irrational procedure altogether.

Why do the people imagine a vain thing? Because they are the people; that is to say, they are a crowd, a multitude, a mob; they do not move from a social centre; they are the victims and sport of any passion that may be uppermost at the moment The idea of social or united responsibility does not enter into their thinking, and, therefore, does not regulate their action. Mere numbers do not constitute society: men may be in association and yet not in fellowship. What is wanted is organisation, legal, moral, and sympathetic; such organisation alone constitutes "the people" in the Christian and even truly philosophic sense of the term.

But why do the kings and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord? Because they are kings and rulers; that is to say, they do not know that all governments are inferior and subordinate to spiritual and divine dominion; they resent every suggestion of the sort; they have all the pettiness but none of the genius of rulership; they do not know that rulership ought to come up out of the spirit of obedience, and, therefore, that he who cannot obey, cannot rule. Their notion of rulership is that of "directing" and "casting away"; it is destructive, negative, ruthless. The very terms they use indicate their conception of sovereignty. They do not say, Let us examine; they say, Let us break; not, Let us argue, but, Let us cast away! And this spirit comes out of a false notion of divine government; they designate that government by two expressive terms—namely, "bands" and "cords"; they think that the Lord"s government is tyranny and slavery; to them it is not a spiritual dominion of thought, rectitude, sympathy, culture, discipline; but a dominion of bands and cords,—that Isaiah , of merely physical and tyrannous strength. Such is the course of thinking adopted by rude and selfish ignorance, it means tyranny, usurpation, and is utterly destitute of beneficence and moral grandeur. There are no greater names in social language than "kings" and "rulers," nor is there any occasion to change the names; the great thing to be done is to purge them of all injurious and unholy elements; the words "the people" must remain for ever as conveying a significance peculiarly their own; but instead of these words representing mere mobs or masses or uncontrollable multitudes, they must represent organised communities based on the principle of mutual responsibility and common welfare.

"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure" ( Psalm 2:4-5).

The heathen and the people, the kings and the rulers, are answered with contempt, they are laughed at and derided; and if this be not enough to change their spirit and their purpose they will be spoken to in wrath and vexed in sore displeasure. It is interesting and instructive to remark how creation first laughs at and derides men who oppose it, and how in the next place it avenges the insults which are offered to its laws. When Canute rebuked the waves the sea laughed at him and the waves had him in derision; had he remained upon the position which he had chosen, laughter and derision would have been exchanged for vengeance and overthrow. Let a man attempt to put down the wind, and the only possible answer is derision; let him attempt to defy the lightning, and he may perish under its stroke. There is but a short distance between the derisiveness of nature and its penal judgments. So every attempt to revile the power of God is contemned, and every insult offered to his holiness is avenged. A very curious process is indicated by these two verses. The laughter is expressive of an eternal law; things are not so constituted that they can be turned about at the pleasure of the wicked, nor is the purpose of the universe so fickle that the wrath of man can affect its fulfilment; great strength can afford to deride; infinite power can best express its own consciousness of almightiness by smiling upon all the hosts which array themselves against it But this answer of contemptuous laughter must not be the only reply, for contempt can seldom have any moral issue of a really substantial and blessed kind; there must come a time when law must avenge itself upon those who would insult its majesty or mock its power. First, laughter as a proof of the utter impossibility of injuriously affecting the standards and purposes of God; after laughter must come the judgment, which shows how dangerous it is to trifle with fire, and how awful a thing it is to defy the wrath of righteousness. It is for every man to consider under what particular phase of the divine regard he is now living. For a period he may be amused, as it were, at certain phases of the opposition of nature or the awkwardness of life; but let him not suppose that he sees the whole of the case: such opposition and awkwardness may suddenly be displaced by judgment and vengeance and destiny irrevocable.

A very beautiful expression is found in the sixth verse:—"Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." There is but one king, and he is throned upon a hill that is beyond all other characteristics holy. Mark how the moral is associated with the royal in this picture of divine sovereignty. A throne that is set upon any other hill than a hill that is holy must fall because of want of solid and enduring foundation. Assured that the hill is holy, we may comfort ourselves with the further assurance that every sovereignty founded upon it is also holy. The kings of the earth had forgotten the King of Zion, and the rulers made by rude strength of their own had forgotten that all true rulership is but a phase of heaven"s eternal sway. What is the reason why masters should rule their households well? because they have to remember that they themselves have a master. So kings are to reign under the King, and power is to be established upon holiness. Any king who supposes himself to be final must of necessity become a tyrant, because final authority is inconsistent with limited wisdom and restricted power. Finality can only belong to completeness. Kings should never cease to pray. This applies not only to kingships of a political or imperial kind, but to sovereignties of a spiritual, moral, and social degree. There is a temptation to believe that kingship is equivalent to deity; in other words, that the man who is upon the throne has no need to live upon any higher life than his own. This is a fatal error into whatever lines of thinking it may enter. The more gifted the mind, the more incessant should be its religious desires, that it may be kept in the right course, upheld amid all the temptations incident to ascendency, and chastened daily by still deeper insight into the frailty of human nature and the uncertainty of all earthly or finite tenures. In this sense the father has, so to say, more need to pray than has the child. In a sense he is both father and child, having to think for both, and plan the life of both, and concern himself with the most solemn aspects of the destiny of both. The pastor"s prayer should be coloured by the necessity and the desire of the thousand hearts that look to him for the utterance of common necessities.

"I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter"s vessel" ( Psalm 2:7-9).

There is nothing in the economy of life and civilisation that is haphazard. Before all things and round about them as a glory and defence is the Lord"s "decree." Under all disorder is law. That law is first beneficent and then retributive; it is beneficent because it contemplates the recovery and sanctification of the heathen and the uttermost parts of the earth; it is retributive because if this offer of enclosure and honour is rejected, those who despise it shall be broken with a rod of iron and dashed to pieces like a potter"s vessel. In a study of the world"s constitution and movement, look first of all at the Lord"s decree, in other words, at the Lord"s idea and purpose. Settle it that the decree is good, merciful, redemptive, and then judge everything in the light of that fact. If we were judging of a national constitution, we should not pronounce it bad because of its prisons; we should, on the contrary, pronounce it good for that very reason. We should know that there was a strong authority in the land, and that the authority was good because it imprisoned and rebuked the workers of evil. So the rod of iron attests the holiness of God; and hell itself shows that virtue is honoured of heaven. Whatever may be the intermediate interpretation of these words, it is the joy of the Christian to find their full fruition in the advent and priesthood of Jesus Christ. Sometimes long periods are required for the full interpretation of ancient terms. We read these terms with wonder; sometimes we invent momentarily satisfactory interpretations of them; we may even go so far as to build orthodoxies upon certain meanings which we attribute to them; but; as the ages come and go and new phases of human nature and divine purpose are disclosed we begin to see fuller, if not final meanings, and according to our enlarging light should be the expansiveness of our judgment and charity. No birth in human history known to us so completely covers these terms with glory and beneficence as does the birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Not even in the New Testament have these words been excelled for dignity and spiritual richness. Here is law as if eternity itself had spoken: here is divine consultation resembling the conference between the persons of the Godhead reported in the earliest books of Scripture: here is the creation of a new term—" Song of Solomon ," and a new relation as between God and the new humanity: no longer do we read of Creator and creature, but of Father and Son: here is sublime prophecy,—the heathen are turned into Christ"s inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth are filled with the summer of his love. The awful words of the ninth verse do not refer to the people as such, but to the people in their heathen capacity; it is heathenism that is to be broken with a rod of iron; it is heathenism that is to be dashed in pieces like a potter"s vessel. Even if the words be taken to apply to the people in the ordinary sense of the term, they can only be so applied when the people set themselves stubbornly against the will of the Almighty. The clear and beneficent teaching of the passage is that there can be but one God, one sovereign power, one eternal righteousness, and that whatsoever sets itself against this one rulership must inevitably be broken and dashed in pieces.

"Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Song of Solomon , lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him" ( Psalm 2:10-12).

The threatening of Jehovah is neither an empty taunt nor a lawless passion. When he speaks of breaking the wicked with a rod of iron and dashing them in pieces like a potter"s vessel, he is not to be compared with the kings and rulers who said "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." God"s threatening has a moral purpose in view, which is to turn the kings to wisdom and the judges to instruction: his threatening is indeed an aspect of his gospel. When the parent threatens the child it is not for the child"s injury but for the child"s welfare. We do wrong in stopping at the threatening and overlooking the purpose. Our business is rather to look steadfastly at the purpose of God and to believe that all the methods which he adopts for its accomplishment are wise and good and best. Having shown the wicked how terrible he can be—how easy it would be for him to break them and dash them in pieces—he calls upon them to serve to him, kiss the Song of Solomon , and to enjoy the blessedness of them that put their trust in him. The Lord is not willing that any should perish. Judgment is his strange work. Christ will either have men as an inheritance, or he will have them as vessels which are fit only to be dashed to pieces. Those who scorn his grace shall perish by his power. A very vivid illustration of the method of divine providence is supplied by these verses. Here Isaiah , for example, warning; warning is succeeded by threatening; warning and threatening are both succeeded by an offer of reconciliation and peace and joy. We do not find in these verses mere denunciation or mere threatening; we find denunciation and threatening employed for the purpose of awakening attention to an offered gospel; the consequences of sin are set forth in appalling terms, and the method of reconciliation is indicated with definiteness that cannot be mistaken. "Kiss the Song of Solomon ,"—wonderful words are these; they mean obeisance, confession of error, willingness to serve, acknowledgment of divine supremacy. This is the kiss of peace, it is indeed the holy kiss, it has in it all the meaning of heaven. The words can be understood better by the heart than by the head. They point to a happy reconciliation, the humble acceptance of divinely-tendered terms and the rest which comes of obedience. "When his wrath is kindled but a little,"—this is the purpose of the divine wrath, to show what it can do, and yet to awaken in the sinner a feeling that even this wrath may be escaped by a method of God"s own invention. Whatever we see of divine wrath now may be described as "but a little." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Do not let us delude ourselves with the sophism that we understand all that is meant by the punishment of sin. Verily it is an everlasting punishment! Its duration is the smallest of all the elements that enter into it. It is not at all an arithmetical quantity. The fearfulness of falling into the divine hands must be left amongst the terms which cannot be explained by human speech, and must be so understood as to subdue the heart and lead the rebellious will to the acceptance of divine terms.

Observe that in this psalm the kings and the rulers, the heathen and the people, are all addressed in a common language. There is not one way for kings and rulers and another way for the common people. Sin is one in all cases, essentially and unchangeably. Let us notice specially the folly of those who ought to know better—kings and rulers and judges setting themselves in array against heaven. If the leaders go wrong, who can expect the followers to do that which is right? We look to certain men to lead the sentiment of their time. He works under infinite disadvantage who is not encouraged in his small endeavours by the example and the stimulus of men of higher age and larger attainment than his own. When the prophets prophesy falsely, what wonder if the whole Church be given over to delusion.

Let us, in the next place, measure and determine everything by the divine "decree." What God hath purposed must stand. Has he ever spoken well of wickedness? Has he ever commended the wicked man? From end to end of the Bible the testimony of the divine righteousness is one; that righteousness is set against all the counsels of the wicked, and that righteousness is the very security of heaven. We find in the New Testament a confirmation of this Psalm , as, for example ( Acts 13:33): "It is also written in the second Psalm , Thou art my Song of Solomon , this day have I begotten thee." Thus the passage is appropriated for Christian uses. Whilst we avoid all merely fantastic spiritualising, we are not at liberty to decline interpretations which include the whole of the facts and cover the entire circle of their noblest significations. The last point of application may well be that we have received the threatening of the Lord, or the warning, and that by so much our responsibility is increased. Although we may not have received the gospel, we cannot deny that we have been warned of the evil of sin and of its necessary penalties. That is a point never to be overlooked in considering our exact relation to God. He can quote his own words against us, in that he has followed us with many a warning, importuned us with many an entreaty, alarmed us by many a judgment; and has followed up all this negative course by an offer of reconciliation to himself through the priesthood of his Son Christian eyes can see in this second psalm much of the character and mission of the Son of God. It would seem as if the author saw the day breaking over the hills of heathen darkness. He does not scruple to depict the exact condition of affairs, and yet in all the gloom of night he begins to have hope of the approaching dawn. Great as has been the opposition against the divine righteousness, the writer begins to see that there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord. Whilst all the kings and rulers of the earth are embattled against heaven, the Psalmist beheld the incoming of One of whom he could say, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end." He sees the enemies of the Lord being made into the footstool of Christ. In the darkest day the saints of God have had hope. The sight of heathenism should not depress the soul into moods of despair; it should turn expectation and attention in the direction of heaven itself, because out of its height shall come the King who shall rule all kings and the Saviour who shall taste death for every man. "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." Wonderful things has God shown unto his watching children in the nighttime. The darkness has not excluded the beauty of the future. "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." None could have seen the darkness and terrible moral condition of the ancient world as the saints of old themselves did. To us it is but history, whilst to them it was the immediate fact of the day: yet from their lips we have the most eloquent prophecies of times that were to come. There is no sublimity higher than the prophecies of the psalmists and the seers of ancient times. "Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations." "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." Oftentimes the joy of the ancient prophets rose into music of the purest quality,—"And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." The Old Testament has in it the joy of prophecy; the New Testament has in it the higher joy of realisation. What we have specially to note is that the decree is one, the law is continuous, the divine throne is unchanging and unchangeable in its occupancy, and that it is vain for human invention to attempt any other way of reconciliation with the Father, or to substitute any scheme that shall end in harmony with God except that which is laid down in the Sacred Book itself. "Kiss the Son." Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Methods and policies and relations—all that constitutes the surface of human society must continually change, but at the heart of things is the immutable law that only by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can the world be redeemed and saved.

Note

The kissing of princes was a token of homage ( Psalm 2:12; 1 Samuel 10:1). Xenophon says that it was a national custom with the Persians to kiss whomsoever they honoured. Kissing the feet of princes was a token of subjection and obedience; which was sometimes carried so far that the print of the foot received the kiss, so as to give the impression that the very dust had become sacred by the royal tread, or that the subject was not worthy to salute even the prince"s foot, but was content to kiss the earth itself near or on which he trod ( Isaiah 49:23; Micah 7:17; Psalm 72:9). The Rabbins did not permit more than three kinds of kisses, the kiss of reverence, of reception, and of dismissal.

The peculiar tendency of the Christian religion to encourage honour towards all men, as men; to foster and develop the softer affections; and, in the trying condition of the early church, to make its members intimately known one to another, and unite them in the closest bonds—led to the observance of kissing as an accompaniment of that social worship which took its origin in the very cradle of our religion. Hence the exhortation—"Salute each other with a holy kiss" ( Romans 16:16; see also 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; in 1 Peter 5:14, it is termed "a kiss of charity"). The observance was continued in later days, and has not yet wholly disappeared, though the peculiar circumstances have vanished which gave propriety and emphasis to such an expression of brotherly love and Christian friendship.—Kitto"s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 2:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/psalms-2.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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