The world recently witnessed the accession of King Charles III after the passing of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. While we still wait for the coronation ceremony, he officially holds numerous titles in the United Kingdom, the British monarchy, and the Commonwealth.

Did you know that the Bible describes the coronation ceremony of the true sovereign, the true King of all the nations? Psalm 2 is a royal psalm where the Lord appoints his Son as the ruler of the nations. Let’s look at some of the high points of this psalm with some help from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition. Here’s a musical rendition of the psalm to accompany your study.

Psalm 1 & 2

Psalm 2 (along with Psalm 1) is an introductory psalm to the entire book of Psalms. Many of the themes one encounters in these introductory psalms show up throughout the rest of the book. Here’s how Willem VanGemeren describes it:

The editors placed Psalms 1 and 2 as an introduction to the whole book of Psalms. Both psalms give an idealized portrayal. In Psalm 1 the person of God’s choice is godly, delights in God, lives by divine instruction, is wise, and does not listen to evildoers. In Psalm 2 the messianic agent of God’s choice is of the house of David, whom God adopts as his son, lives up to divine instruction, is wise, and subdues evildoers. The idealization of the godly person in Psalm 1 complements the idealization of the messianic agent in Psalm 2.

Psalms 1 and 2 stand as God’s encouragement to each person to live wisely by meeting God’s expectations and to trust in him by cultivating hope in One who would bring in God’s blessings to a rebellious world.

Psalms 1 and 2 together provide a framework for interpreting the Psalter with the thematic network of wisdom, democratization, the happiness of the godly, the just deserts of the wicked, God’s just kingship, the messianic agency, and God’s sovereignty over the nations. The programmatic opening chapters define major issues the psalms will develop: Yahweh’s instruction in wisdom, Yahweh’s justice, the happiness of the godly, sin and forgiveness, the rebellion of the nations and the wicked, the destruction of the wicked, Yahweh’s protection of the godly, the Davidic covenant, and the success of the messianic agent.

The Messianic King

The psalm begins with the turmoil of the nations and ends with the blessing of those who trust in the Lord. As an example of redemptive-historical drama, it gives a theological perspective for interpreting world events. The psalm reflects a deep understanding of God’s covenant with David (2 Sa 7:5–16). God’s relationship with David and his sons, who were also “anointed,” involves the promise that through the Davidic dynasty God will establish his universal rule over the earth.

Psalm 2:1–3 – The Rebellious Nations

The introductory interrogative “Why” expresses the irony of the tumultuous efforts against the Lord and his anointed. The psalmist was neither surprised nor worried by the rebellion of the nations. He expressed astonishment that the rulers of the earth even tried to counsel together against God. The same idea is expressed by “Why do the nations bother?” At the very outset, the psalmist makes it clear that the nations’ attempt is in vain. They are agitated like the waves of the sea. In their anger they make all kinds of senseless noise. It is not that they plot with any design or purpose but rather that they react emotionally to God’s rule (cf. Ac 4:25–28; Ro 1:21–32).

In the ancient Near East, “the kings” (v. 2) considered themselves to be “divine” monarchs, who are here portrayed as bringing together all of their “sacral” powers and forces against the Lord God and his anointed (see Gary V. Smith, “The Concept of God/the gods as Kings in the Ancient Near East and the Bible,” TJ 3 [1982]: 18–38; my “Kingship,” in BEB 2:1264–69). Their rebellion is an outright rejection of the Davidic king and constitutes a threat to the universal rule of God (v. 2). The united counsel and confrontation is parallel with the folly of the wicked (1:1); but whereas the godly meditate on God’s law, the kings “meditate” (NIV, “plot,” v. 1) on rebellion.

The goal of the rebellion is lordship. In the ancient Near East there were lords (suzerains) and servants (vassals). The poet, in hyperbolic language, portrays the kings of earth as breaking away from their required allegiance to the King of kings.

Psalm 2:4–6 – God’s Rule in Heaven

In this section, the scene shifts from earth to heaven, where we catch a glimpse of God laughing at and mocking the feeble attempts of the rulers. Above the turbulence (“rage”) of the nations, God sits and reacts to their rebellion against him (“plot,” “gather together,” vv. 1-2) with laughter. His laughter is an expression of ridicule, for he knows their end (cf. 37:13). The confidence of God’s people rests in God himself, who is unmoved by the political machinations on earth. As earthly creatures, we can hardly avoid becoming involved; yet our hope is in the God who laughs and scoffs at our enemies (cf. 59:6–8).

The emphatic “I” introduces the words of God’s decree to appoint to the throne a Davidic ruler who will bring the nations to submission. God’s “I” is emphatic in response to the activities of the rulers. It could be translated “as for me.” God’s reaction to the stirring on earth is the installation of an anointed king, and his determination to share his rule with a Davidic king is not weakened in the face of opposition. His “decree” stands.

Psalm 2:7–9 – God’s Decree

The decree of God deals with the Davidic king and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. These verses interpret God’s covenant with David and properly extend David’s rule to the ends of the earth.

In accordance with the scene in heaven (vv. 4-6), the divinely appointed king speaks about the Lord’s promise, publicly proclaiming his own relationship with God, the Great King.

The “decree” of the Lord determines his relationship to the king and to the nations. The Davidic king is by birth and by promise the “son of God.”

The privilege of kingship lies in the relationship between God and the king. After all, he is the “son” of God. As such he may freely ask for an extension of his rule, because it fits within God’s planned universal rule. The father graciously grants to his son the promise of the worldwide rule as his “inheritance.” Since God is the Ruler of the world, he authorizes the Davidic king to extend his kingdom to “the ends of the earth.”

The rule of God’s messiah brings stability, even if he has to use force. The Lord’s king has power to smash all opposition to his rule. He expresses his sovereignty as an “iron rule” in which rebels face a crushing like fragile clay vessels (cf. Jer 19:11). The authority of the king derives from God in that the Lord “breaks the spirit of rulers” (Ps 76:12).

Psalm 2:10–12 – The Rule of the Messiah on Earth

The universal rule of God is expressed by his patience, calling for kings and rulers to assess their situation. If they are wise, they will respond favorably. The wise response includes both a spirit willing to receive God’s revelation about the anointed and his kingdom and a joyous spirit of submission to the Lord (v. 11). The Lord expects his creatures, and especially the leaders of the nations, to make a wise response to the impending day of his wrath.

Moreover, submission is the only acceptable response to the Great King (v. 11). Submission is expressed by “service,” which connotes a willingness to become a vassal and thus to recognize God’s suzerainty (“lordship”).

Psalm 2 in the NT

The second psalm is one of the psalms most quoted in the NT. It was favored by the apostles as scriptural confirmation of Jesus’ messianic office and his expected glorious return with power and authority. The writers of the synoptic gospels alluded to Psalm 2 in their account of Jesus’ baptism, when the Father proclaimed him to be his Son (v. 7; cf. Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). With the words of v. 7, Jesus introduced the beginning of the messianic age.

The first-century church applied Psalm 2 to the Messiah as an explanation of the crucifixion of Jesus by the rulers (Herod and Pontius Pilate), the nations, and Israel (the priests, teachers of the law, and Pharisees). They had conspired together against the Messiah of God (Ac 4:25–28). Paul applied it to Jesus’ ministry — his sonship, resurrection, and ascension to glory, which confirmed God’s promises in Jesus as the Messiah (Ac 13:32–33).

Psalm 2:8 is similarly applied in Hebrews, where the glory of the Messiah as “the exact representation of [God’s] being” is revealed in Jesus’ suffering for sins, in his authority “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (1:3), and in his authority over angelic beings (vv. 5-6). The apostle John reveals the greatness of the Messiah’s victory. He was born of a woman but is destined to “rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Rev 12:5). He is the Rider on the white horse who will “strike down the nations” in the day of God’s wrath (Rev 19:15; cf. 11:16–18).

Jesus as the Messianic King

Psalm 2 and Jesus Christ: Jesus is the messianic agent. He is the true Son of God. He has identified himself with all the psalmists who cried out to God, felt abandoned by God, and suffered at the hands of their enemies. Jesus walked in their shoes. The Gospels and Acts witness to Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father.

The apostles explain that Jesus’ journey truly leads to a resolution of the issues raised by Psalm 2. Jesus Christ is “the” Son of God (Ac 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5; see Ps 2). Jesus is already seated at the right hand of the Father (Mt 22:44; Mk 12:36; Lk 20:42–43; Ac 2:35; Heb 1:13; see Ps 110). All the nations will bow before him (1Co 15:25–27; see Ps 8:6). He will smite the rebellious nations with a rod (Rev 2:27; 19:15; see Ps 2), but he shows grace to all who submit to him.

Find Out More about the EBC Revised Edition

Both editions of this commentary series are available on our website: the classic Expositor’s Bible Commentary and the Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition. Check out this blog post to learn more about the differences between the two. Best Commentaries has rated this commentary on the book of Psalms very highly. The rest of the series contains commentaries by D.A. Carson, John Sailhamer, Richard Longenecker, Andreas Kostenberger, and many other respected scholars.

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