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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 2

 

 

Introduction

The first psalm looked at the righteous man and his relationship with God, indicating the blessings that flowed to him from God.. This psalm looks at the Righteous One and His relationship with man. It is necessary first to consider the background to this Psalm for it concerns first the King of Israel. It describes him as YHWH’s anointed, His adopted son and as the prospective world ruler. But in the end it has in mind the Great King Who is yet to come, the One Who will fulfil all YHWH’s will..

Abraham was called by God to leave his family and go to the land of Canaan. When he arrived he received the first of a series of promises. Part of that promise was that the whole world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). This was later expanded to include the fact that he would be the father of kings who would rule nations (Genesis 17:6). And indeed in the thinking of those days the only way by which a man could bless the whole world would be seen as by ruling over it. Thus intrinsic in these promises was that Abraham’s descendants would rule ‘the world’.

A hint of this was included in Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17, both of which indicated the ruling of an empire by the coming descendant of Judah/Israel. The idea was vague but growing. They thought in terms of their ‘world’. Exodus 19:6 speaks of Israel becoming a kingdom of priests and this again required that the nations should look to Israel. Thus Israel had a growing sense of the fact that one day they would be called on to act on God’s behalf on the world as it was around them.

Then the triumphs of David caused hope of the fulfilment of the dream. And this was when this psalm was written. To take it as just the description of a local squabble is to overlook a number of things. Firstly Israel’s vision of itself; secondly, the fact that David was a poet as well a king, with all a poet’s dreams; and thirdly, that his meteoric rise, as well as his successes, was extremely likely to cause a hunger after more. In the eyes of most of Israel he must later almost have seemed to be king of the world. He certainly ruled their ‘world’, and the ‘worlds’ round about, with an iron hand. And this would probably have seemed even more so in the splendour of the reign of Solomon. They are a picture (when viewed idealistically) of the future Kingly Rule of God.

So David exulted in his privilege as being made YHWH’s anointed, and he calls on the nations to submit and yield themselves to YHWH. Then and then alone will come worldwide blessing. He no doubt hoped for it in his day, with the eyes of the visionary, or at the worst in his son’s day. But he spoke better than he knew. For its fulfilment would await the coming of his Greater Son, Jesus Christ.

After the fall of Solomon this idea of future kingship was taken up with a vengeance by the prophets. In their eyes the collapse of the kingdom had not removed the possibility, only delayed it. Although the kingship appeared to be in decline they declared that YHWH could not finally fail. God had promised to David an everlasting kingship. So there would come one day a king from the house of David, endued with the Spirit of God, who would become the perfect example of righteousness and He would rule the world, with the result that the nations would be transformed (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4 with 9-10; Psalms 32:1-2; Psalms 72; Ezekiel 37:24-28). Thus the continual ideal ‘king to come’ was seen as destined to rule the nations, bringing the blessing promised to Abraham on all the families of the earth. This was their hope. This was their dream. And it was necessary in order to fulfil God’s promises for the kingship, and God’s promises to Abraham. So when David failed to fulfil the ideal, the coming of a greater David became a certainty. And it was that dream that was in the people’s minds when this psalm was sung throughout the periods of the first and second temples and beyond.

In Acts 4:25-26 the new people of God refer to the opening words of this psalm saying ‘Who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David did say’. Then they referred the significance of the Psalm to Jesus. They saw the psalm as spoken by the Holy Spirit through David and fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and especially in the resurrection of Jesus, the final fulfilment of the psalm. He had been treated abominably by all the world, both king and governor, both Gentile and Jew (Acts 4:27), but had finally been set on God’s holy hill as YHWH’s Anointed (Acts 2:34-36).

The time of the writing of the psalm was probably not too long after Nathan’s vision from God, declared to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16. We can imagine the impression those words made on David as he saw himself as the anointed of YHWH, adopted as His son, as his sons would be after him. Thus he sought to express the ideal in poetry. Each was ‘YHWH’s anointed’, but ever awaiting the One Who would rule the everlasting Kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16).

It seemingly also arose at a time when there were simmerings of rebellion among the tribute nations. Possibly there was news of a plot afoot to rebel against David. But he was not afraid, for he knew that he was YHWH’s anointed. He knew that he had defeated the mighty Philistines, taking over their empire (2 Samuel 8:1-14), and even at that stage the vision was possibly already growing in his mind of a ‘world’ empire over which YHWH would rule. If he could defeat them he could defeat anyone.

So in the psalm he signalled the certainty of the triumph of the favoured of YHWH, and gave warning to all of what it would mean to rebel against him and his God. Indeed the poem might have been despatched to kings in his empire as a subtle warning that he was aware of plans that were afoot. Inevitably they would be brought into fruition at any sign of weakness. But when it was sung regularly within the Temple it signified a looking forward to the dream, the dream of the great and godly king of the house of David who would one day arise, with YHWH’s help and power, to rule the world, thus fulfilling David’s vision.

The psalm begins with the nations and rulers seething and hatching rebellion against YHWH and against His anointed king. It continues with YHWH’s derision of their attempt to overthrow His anointed. Then it declares to the nations that this one against whom they rebel is in fact YHWH’s ‘son’, adopted by Him in order that he might rule the world and bring judgment on God’s enemies. And finally it calls on the nations to submit to YHWH and His son, finishing with the words “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him”.

While possibly springing from a specific occasion we must remember that this is poetry. It was intended to be sung. It depicted David’s view of the Davidic kingship. It was a vision of the significance of the rule of the ‘anointed of YHWH’ which would carry on through generations, and it was his idealistic view of what it would achieve. David did not just have himself in mind. He thought of his sons, and his son’s sons over an everlasting kingdom, with all men submitting to YHWH, as YHWH had promised him (2 Samuel 7:8-16). It was to be fulfilled in Great David’s Greater Son.


Verses 1-3

The Nations In Rebellion Against YHWH and Against His Anointed One

‘Why do the nations rage,

And the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against YHWH and against his anointed.’

Saying, Let us break their bands asunder,

And cast away their cords from us.’

In these words we have a picture of the world’s attitude towards God and towards Jesus Christ. For while they cannot agree together the nations as a whole are united in one thing, breaking the yoke of God upon them, and the result is the rejection of Jesus Christ as their Lord and King. Even among His people many may call Jesus Christ to be ‘their Saviour’ but they do not want His cords and bands to bind them, they do not want to be under His yoke (Matthew 11:29).

But these words are especially applied in Acts 4 to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews in what is a very important passage, for it makes clear the final rejection of the unbelieving Jewish nation, and a dismissal of them as simply being a part of the ‘nations’. They are no longer to be seen as God’s people. For the true Israel, the genuine descendant of Israel, is found in that small group of men and women through whom the Holy Spirit has begun His work, and it is to them that all the promises of God in the Old Testament now apply.

Let us consider it in more detail. In Acts 4:27-28 Luke demonstrates quite clearly that the old unbelieving Israel is no longer, after the resurrection, the true Israel. This is clearly to be inferred from the words of the infant ‘congregation’, for we read, "For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentilesand the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about." Note the four ‘items’ mentioned, the Gentiles, the peoples of Israel, ‘King’ (Tetrarch) Herod and Pontius Pilate the ruler. And note that these words follow as an explanation of a quotation from this Psalm as follows:

‘Why didthe Gentilesrage,

Andthe peoplesimagine vain things,

Thekingsof the earth set themselves,

And therulerswere gathered together,

Against the Lord and against His anointed --.’

The important point to note here is that ‘the peoples’ who imagined vain things, who in this Psalm were described as nations who were enemies of Israel, have now become in Acts ‘the peoples of Israel’. Thus the ‘peoples of Israel’ who were opposing the Apostles and refusing to believe are here seen as the enemy of God and His Anointed, and of His people, and as having become simply one among the nations in their opposition. It is a clear indication that old unbelieving Israel was now to be seen as ‘cast off’ and numbered by God among the nations, and that that part of Israel which had believed in Christ were seen as the true Israel. As Jesus had said to Israel, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21:43). This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 11:13-32.

Thus the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over. If it be asked, what then of the return to Israel of the Jews, is this not a fulfilment of prophecy? my reply would be, yes in so far as He is gathering them so that He might do a work of His Spirit among them in order to win many of them to Jesus Christ, with their thus becoming a part of the new Israel (compare Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; Joel 2:28-29; Ezekiel 26:24-25), but no in so far as people suggest that God will deal with Israel on a separate basis. They have been brought back to Israel in order that they may again have the opportunity to respond to Him in the very place where they arranged His crucifixion, and rejected Him after His resurrection. They are being given a second chance. But that chance can only be accepted by responding to Him and becoming His disciples, not as a separate nation. Indeed Revelation 11 suggests the vainness of even that hope for the majority. It suggests that once again God has in mind simply a remnant prior to the Rapture of His people.


Verses 4-6

God Will Laugh At Man’s Folly And Exalt His Anointed.

‘He who sits in the heavens will laugh,

The Lord will have them in derision,

Then will he speak to them in his wrath,

And vex them in his sore displeasure (‘fiery wrath’).

“Yet have I set my king,

Upon my holy hill of Zion”.’

But God will laugh at the folly of man in thinking that they can dismiss Him. For in spite of their opposition as so vividly described above He will yet set His King upon His holy hill of Zion. It is true that when the King presented Himself in Mark 11:1-18 and parallels, He was rejected by all but a few, and once they had crucified Him they thought that they were rid of Him, but it was He Who had the last laugh, for He rose again from the dead, was enthroned and acclaimed in Heaven (e.g. Acts 2:36; Acts 7:56; Ephesians 1:19-21; Revelation 5), and came down at Pentecost in wind and fire in order to establish His claim to Kingly Rule (Acts 2:1-3; compare Matthew 28:18-20), the Holy Spirit bearing Him witness (Acts 2:4). On that very holy hill of Zion that God had promised His Kingly Rule was manifested. The Kingly Rule of God had come with power (Mark 9:1).


Verse 7

‘I will declare the decree of YHWH.

He said to me, “You are my son,

Today I have begotten you.”

This is the solemn decree of God. This has firstly in mind the words of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16. God had chosen him, a humble shepherd, to be prince over Israel, yes, to be a great name like the name of the great ones on the earth. It was then that he was ‘adopted’, and informed that God would be father to his son, indicating that He was so to David too. And He promised that this would continue on in his descendants. Just as God was a father to David so would He be a father to his son, and his son’s sons (Psalms 89:29; Psalms 89:36). Each would be made God’s son, adopted by YHWH.

In those days an adopted son was looked on, and described as, ‘begotten’. He became a full member of the family. Thus they would be the begotten of YHWH by adoption. And through the house of David would be established an everlasting throne. Inherent in this is that David would not be the greatest. An even Greater than he would arise, great David’s greater son, to bring in the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Ezekiel 37:25).

We must see here the ideas in Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:20-21; Psalms 89:26-29; Psalms 89:35-36 where this is clearly in mind. ‘David’, who had probably long since passed away, was to be made God’s ‘firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth’, the term firstborn signifying high position and authority as well as descent. Thus this theoretical position was to pass on through his line until it found its fulfilment in a greater David. And as the words were sung regularly in the temple, the people looked forward to the coming of this greater David. This would lead on to belief in the Messiah (the supreme Anointed One).

So we can understand David’s confidence in the light of the great position that was his. He was YHWH’s son, the chosen of God, and the destiny of his house was world rule. No wonder he had no fear of his enemies.

And that decree was later spoken over Another, when at His baptism a voice from heaven spoke, and said, ‘You are My Son, the beloved’ (Mark 1:11), and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, the heavenly sign of His anointing. The greater David was here, the One Who was not only adopted as His Son, but was truly ‘the Son’ (Mark 13:32; John 5:19-23 and often; Philippians 2:6-7), begotten of the Father (John 1:14; John 1:18), full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), the One Who fulfilled all the significance of Davidic sonship and more. And He too would triumph over His enemies and their rebellion. The words are indeed quoted in Hebrews 1:5 in order to declare that Jesus is the true Son of God.


Verses 7-9

‘I will declare the decree of YHWH.

He said to me, “You are my son,

Today I have begotten you.”

“Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance,

And the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron,

You will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

And after Jesus had been baptised as the representative of the new Israel (Matthew 2:15), He came up out of the water and the decree of YHWH was declared, ‘You are My Son, My Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased’. He had passed His probation with flying colours, and was now set on course to fulfil God’s purpose for Him. And on the mount of Transfiguration His Kingly glory was revealed, with Moses on one hand and Elijah on the other, and again the heavenly voice declared’ ‘This is My Beloved Son, hear Him’ (Mark 9:7). And we need not doubt that He asked of His Father precisely this, that He would give Him the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Indeed we are told how this began to happen at Pentecost when men were present ‘from every nation under Heaven’ (Acts 2:5), and from then on through Acts we have the description of how He triumphed until at last He came to Rome itself where Paul proclaimed His Kingly Rule and taught the things concerning Jesus (Acts 28:31).

But there is also another side to the King, for there are those who will refuse to accept His rule, and concerning them God declares, “You will break them with a rod of iron, You will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” For He has committed all judgment to His Son (John 5:22), and those who reject Him must finally face their judgment.


Verse 8-9

God’s Offer To His Anointed One.

“Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance,

And the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron,

You will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Here the widespread nature of the promises is made clear. David is promised that to him and his house will be given the world-wide dominion promised through Abraham. The nations will be blessed through them, and the whole world will come under their control. Kings always described their conquests in terms of blessing under their benevolent rule, and often depicted them as universal, but certainly in mind is something more widespread than a few local small kings. David is given a vision of widespread conquest. But first they will have to be conquered, although Jesus would later point out that it must be by words.

‘Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance.’ Israel’s original inheritance was the promised land (Genesis 17:8; Deuteronomy 4:21; Deuteronomy 32:49), but now the inheritance is to be enlarged for YHWH’s adopted son. He will give to him ‘the nations’ outside Israel. That is then expanded as reaching to ‘the uttermost parts of the earth.’ He is to seek by prayer for the expanding of YHWH’s rule to the whole of the known world. He was not to know that his prayer would be fulfilled in One Who was not a warrior, as all over the world people of all nations would submit at His feet, given to Him by the Father as His inheritance (John 6:37; John 6:39), as His possession (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). He asked and He was given His inheritance.

‘You will break them with a rod of iron.’ This may indicate the severity of the treatment. Beaten and broken, not with a wooden stick but with a rod of iron. Or it could equally well be translated, ‘you will rule them with an iron sceptre’. Either way the idea is of stern control, with all who refuse to submit firmly dealt with. Judgment will come on the rebellious, either once they are defeated or in process of that defeat. For we must ever remember that ruling also includes judgment. Those who will not submit will suffer his wrath.

The picture of the potter’s vessel may well have in mind the vessels which come out of the kiln of substandard quality and are irreparable, and are therefore deliberately smashed by the potter (Jeremiah 19:11; Isaiah 30:14). So what is being demanded is submission, with the alternative of judgment. Both pictures are vivid, depicting the iron control of God where it is needed, and His devastating judgments on those who finally refuse to submit to His will. All men must choose between willing submission, or the rod of iron

The words are later specifically applied as His destiny to the glorified Jesus in Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15, and to the persecuted people of God in Revelation 2:27. They too will partake in the judgments of God (Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2).


Verses 10-12

The Call For Response.

‘Now therefore be wise, O you kings,

Be instructed you judges of the earth,

Serve YHWH with fear,

And rejoice with trembling,

Kiss the son, lest he be angry,

And you perish in the way,

For his wrath will blaze forth quickly.

Blessed are all those who put their trust in him.’

And so the call comes to us today, as it came to the men in David’s day. Let all who take authority on earth recognise their need to serve YHWH with godly fear and awe, and even in their times of relaxation remember to tremble, for they will one day have to give account to His Son. Thus they should make obeisance to the Son, and submit themselves to Him, for if there is rebellion in their hearts He will be ‘angry’, and that ‘anger’ will spill over into judgment. In contrast all those who believe on Him, and put their trust in Him, will be truly blessed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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