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8. Psalm 2: A Royal Psalm, Psalmic Prophecy, and Speech

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Outline of Series

ESV Psalm 2:1 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.”

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.”

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 them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

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.

 

I. Content

A. Psalm 1 gives a portrait of Christ the righteous Man; Psalm 2 presents Christ as divine–God’s “begotten” Son (Reardon, 4).

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

Translations which say “today I have become your Father” (NIV, NET, NLT) are emphasizing the Old Testament context in which kings became ceremonially adopted into sonship by God.

Translations which say “today I have begotten you”(ESV, NAU, RSV, NKJ) follow a literal approach that points to the Anointed Messiah’s actual begetting by God the Father. The Hebrew language itself favors “begotten.”

The choice of one over the other indicates the editorial bias of the translators:

1. “Today I have become your Father,” favors emphasis on the original setting and audience in which New Testament statements of the verse are quotations, or “applications.”

2. “Today I have begotten you,” is preferable when the original OT statement is considered as prophetic, pointing directly at a later fulfillment in Christ the Messiah.

Christ’s Baptism: ESV Matthew 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Transfiguration: ESV Matthew 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

3. Question: Does it seem more likely that very God himself would be quoting the Old Testament, or that the Old Testament prophetically would be quoting God?

Remember that according to testimony in the New Testament, including that of Jesus himself (Mark 12:36), a) David was a prophet, and b) all Scripture is “breathed out” by God (2Timothy 2:16).

ESV Hebrews 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” [Psalm 2:7]?Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

ESV Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; [The author of Hebrews states that God in Psalm 2 spoke directly to Christ his Son. This implies that the author perceives Psalm 2 in its original intent and context as referring to Christ. This means that the author of Hebrews views Psalm 2 as prophecy.]

B. Psalm 1 shows what obedience to God’s law looks like at an individual level and demonstrates that the one who seeks God by following the roadmap of his law will be rewarded.

Psalm 2 shows that God’s Anointed (God’s Christ) is King and has received final victory for the righteous and final defeat for the rebellious (vss 4-10).

C. Psalm 2 demonstrates the opposition of rebellious nations to God and to his Son (vss 1-3, 10-11).

1. Psalm 2: Opposition by the nations (nations, kings of the earth, peoples, rulers)

2. Psalm 3: Opposition from the king’s own people (psalm title, vss 1-2)

3. Psalms 4-7: Opposition from unspecified wicked men

D. God’s response to the rebellious nations.

1. God laughs at them in scorn as though they are so many small, ridiculous things (vs 4).

2. God then speaks in wrath (great, active anger) and terrifies in fury (vs 5).

3. God thinks nothing of the power of the nations, because he has installed his own King, his own begotten Son, on Zion, his holy hill (vs 6).

4. The Son receives and proclaims the decree of the Lord God and recounts the powers of judgment and retribution placed in his hand (7-9).

5. Warning and opportunity for repentance are extended to all rebellious rulers and all people generally (10-12).

E. Psalm 2 opens the possibility of the Lord’s salvation and blessing to all nations (vs 12).

The overarching theme of Psalm 2 is that all human history lies solidly within God’s dominance and control and that final, victorious rule has been given to his Son.

Because this Psalm was never fulfilled in Israel’s history, it came to be considered as eschatological in post-exilic times, having to do with the future and end times. Even today, final fulfillment of its statements awaits the Second Coming of Christ. 

Through the themes of divine royalty, opposition from the wicked, and the King’s victory, Psalm 2 stands as an introduction to Books 1 through 3 of Psalms (Psalms 2-89) (Bullock, 59). As a single unit, Psalms 1 and 2 stands as an introduction to the entire Psalter (more on this below).

 

II. Psalms 1 and 2 as a Unit

A. Why is it important to see Psalms 1 and 2 as a unit?

1. Psalms 1 and 2 taken together flesh out and expand the portrait of Christ as incarnated deity. We see him fulfill God’s nature and will both in the humiliated flesh of his humanity (Psalm 1) and in the power of his sovereign deity as God’s Son (Psalm 2).

2. Neither Psalm 1 nor 2 has a superscription, or title. Most agree that these psalms were written at different times in Israel’s long history and placed side by side at the head of the Psalter by an editor. Seeing them as a unit, as a whole piece of literature, supports the continuity of Scripture and demonstrates that God himself is their ultimate author.

3. Continuity and divine authorship in turn support Jesus’ and his early followers’ claims to his being the long-awaited Messiah.

4. Continuity and divine authorship support the New Testament writers’ practice of interpreting various Old Testament psalms as direct prophecies of Christ.

5. Continuity and divine authorship support justification for today’s readers to make application of the psalms as prophecies of Christ in ways not previously cited by New Testament authors. That is, by means of the same Holy Spirit present in the writers of the New Testament, we as modern readers can make scriptural connections between Old and New Testaments similar to those the NT authors made. If as John 21:25 states, Jesus performed many actions and miracles that could not be recorded in that gospel, then it seems plausible that there are many scriptural connections to be made between the Testaments, and especially between Psalms and the New Testament’s life of Christ, that could not be recorded in the letters and gospels of the New Testament, simply because of space considerations.

B. Internal Evidence that Psalms 1 and 2 Form a Unit (Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, 160-161)

1. Neither Psalm 1 nor 2 has a superscription, while Psalms 3 through 41 all superscribe David as author, except for Psalm 33, which is anonymous.

2. Psalm 1 opens with, “Blessed is the man who…” and Psalm 2 closes with, “Blessed are all who…” In literature, this structure is called an inclusio.

3. Parallel Words and Phrases

a. The righteous meditates on God’s Word (1:2), while the wicked take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed…(2:1).

b. The last verses of both psalms speak of the wicked perishing in the way (1:6; 2:12).

c. In Psalm 1, the wicked scoff, or mock, the Lord and his way (1:1), while in Psalm 2, the Lord mocks (laughs at and holds in derision), the rebellious wicked (2:4).

4. Uniform Message: Both psalms proclaim the message that the righteous will prevail.

a. Psalm 1–the righteous prevail by faithfully following God’s way, his law.

    Psalm 2–the righteous prevail through the King.

b. Psalm 1–the righteous trust God to uphold his law.

     Psalm 2–the righteous trust God to uphold his King.

5. Psalms 1 and 2 taken as a whole, as a complete unit at the very front of the collection, encourage readers to view all the petitions, praises, and laments of the entire Psalter as having reference to both:

a. themselves as individuals within God’s kingdom

b. God’s King, his Son, his Anointed

In consequence of point 5 above, the psalms are highly prophetic. In other words, if the reader receives Psalms 1 and 2 together as a unit introducing the entire Psalter, then the reader can feel justified and free to see all the psalms as applying both to the individual, i.e., the reader herself (Psalm 1) and Christ (Psalm 2), since Psalm 2 plainly and boldly spells out that Christ is the referent. Again, if Psalm 2, along with Psalm 1, introduces the entire Psalter, then the entire Psalter is about Christ, viewed both as incarnate human (Psalm 1) and divine Son and King (Psalm 2).–cw

 

III. Structure

A. Hebrew Poetry

1. Psalm 2 marks itself off into four identifiable blocks of three couplets each: vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. The transition signals will be discussed below.

2. Hebrew poetic couplets in which the second line repeats the first with slight variation to expand, illustrate, explain, or reinforce by repetition the meaning of the first:

 

a. Verse 1

    Why do the nations rage

     and the peoples plot in vain?

b. Verse 3

    “Let us burst their bonds apart

    and cast away their cords from us.”

c. Verse 8

    “I will make the nations your heritage,

    and the ends of the earth your possession.”

 

B. Speech

1. The writer of this blog discovered 3 separate sections within this poem and 4 distinct speakers, as though the poem were intended to be a choral reading.

a. Narrator–verses 1-6 and 2 speakers whom the narrator quotes: Speaker 1 (the rebellious nations, vs 3) and Speaker 2 (God, vs 6)

b. The Son–verses 7-9. The Son, Speaker 3, immediately breaks in with the narrator’s quote of God’s statement in vs 6 functioning as transition and as his introduction. The Son speaks directly from his own experience (vs 7) and further quotes the speech of God to him (vss 7-9).

c. Narrator of Section 1 or, alternatively, a Chorus (Speaker 4)–verses 10-12. The last section differs from the first in that the narrator of the first section speaks omnisciently, not as a character within the psalm, whereas the narrator, or chorus, of the last section addresses the kings and rulers with direct speech (vss 10-12), with the last sentence delivered not as speech towards the rulers, but as a general statement to all readers and all humankind. It functions as a summary of the whole.

2. Waltke and Houston have discovered a “four-act play” in Psalm 2 (Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Worship, 161). The four acts correspond to the sequence of speakers discoverable in the psalm and follow the blocks that this writer describes in the section just above. Whereas this writer combines verses 1-6 into a single section, Waltke divides that block into two “acts.” His four acts and corresponding speakers follow:

a. Act 1: verses 1-3, the hostile kings

b. Act 2: verses 4-6, I AM

c. Act 3: verses 7-9, the King

d. Act 4: verses 10-12, the psalmist

 

C. Why Is Direct and Quoted Speech in Psalms Important?

1. In an Old Testament setting in which the Israelites believed in one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), two distinct divine voices indicate a first and second person of the Trinity.

2. Introduction of a distinct Son of God led directly to the eschatological hope of Messiah.

3. The presence of speech blocks with clearly defined transitions and multiple, identified speakers within a single psalm, such as those found in Psalm 2, establish a usage and pattern that can help interpret psalms whose change of speakers and speech blocks are not as clearly and directly marked. Psalm 102 is an example of such a psalm.

4. Speech highlights and emphasizes the prophetic nature of psalms.

5. Because Psalm 2, taken as a unit with Psalm 1, sets a precedence for the rest of the Psalter, and because the Son speaks prophetically in Psalm 2, there is good reason to suppose that many of the first person statements and prayers in the rest of the Psalter are also prophetic prayers and speech of Christ.

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