Advent is upon us! Of the many places we could go these few weeks to rejoice over the birth of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, we’ll be turning to the Psalms. Now, there are many genres of Psalms throughout the 150 we have: wisdom Psalms, lament Psalms, Psalms of confidence, Zion Psalms, penitential Psalms, Psalms of consolation, and one of particular importance for us as we enter into Advent this year is the royal Psalms. As the name reveals royal Psalms have a kingly tone to them; they’re filled with the language of rule and authority. Therefore, you won’t be surprised that royal Psalms are also called Messianic Psalms because they point to the King to come. In fact, much of the Advent passages or birth narratives we have in the gospels have their roots back in these Psalms. 

But allow me to begin today with a simple thought: we’re a gospel people are we not?[1] We know our many sins but we also know God’s mercy to sinners like us in His Son Jesus Christ. And from being stunned by such infinite and divine beauty, we’ve given ourselves to the cause of the gospel, and labor by the power of the Spirit to see it move ahead in our world with a vigor. But, as we look out on this world we live in and see its hatred and disdain of Jesus it’s not immediately obvious that the cause of Christ is actually winning and moving on ahead with power in the world. Many oppose Him. Many ridicule and mock Him. Many just want nothing to do with Him. What are we to think about this? Will God do anything about it? This brings us to our first Psalm of Advent this year, Psalm 2.

The message of Psalm 2 is that God has not let our rebellion and sin go unanswered, not at all. In response to the raging of the nations God has set His Son on the throne as King over all. Speaking stands out as prominent throughout this whole Psalm. The Psalmist describes the rebellion of the kings of earth by their speaking in v1-3. God Himself responds to this rebellion by speaking in v4-6. God’s anointed King then responds with His own speaking in v7-9. And to close the Psalmist speaks in a warning, inviting the rebellious kings to true wisdom in v10-12.[2] There is no author given for Psalm 2, nor is there a setting describing the events that gave rise for such a Psalm. Most believe Psalm 2 is part two of the introduction to the Psalms that began in Psalm 1. Functioning like bookends Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man…” and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed are all…” The counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, and the seat of scoffers that was spoken of in Psalm 1 is now expanded as a raging against the Lord and His anointed in Psalm 2. And the righteous man of Psalm 1 who’s delight and meditation day and night is on the Law of the Lord is now clarified as the Son of God who rules over the nations in Psalm 2. So this two Psalm introduction to the Psalms teaches us that true wisdom is submitting to the true King, while true folly is fighting against Him.

Psalm 2 is truly a poetic masterpiece and is best understood as it is given to us here in its four three verse stanzas. Let’s see these things firsthand now.

The Nations Rage (v1-3)

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”

v1 begins with a question. The nations aren’t just rejecting or rebelling, they’re raging against God and His king. The word describing this rage is ‘plot.’ This same word is used in Psalm 1:2 but it’s not translated ‘plot’ there it’s translated ‘meditates.’ A contrast is before us. Psalm 1 says the righteous plot on the beauties of God, enjoying Him and gazing on His perfect Law. Psalm 2 says the wicked also plot on the rule of God, raging against it. v2 says this raging isn’t confined to any one person, small group of people, or ever one nation, it is universal, it is of old and has long been notorious.[3]This means if you go into the remotest parts of the jungle to an unreached tribe and if you go across the street in your neighborhood you find sinners set against God.[4]

But specifically, who are they raging against? Two people are in view. The LORD and His Anointed. This is none other than God Himself and His chosen king. Why are they raging against them? One reason and it’s given in v3 where we hear the nations say, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” So in their unity the nations rage against the rule and authority of God and His king. They’d prefer to have no king over them and do whatever is right in their own eyes, they’d prefer to be autonomous, they’d prefer to be under no governing authorities, to be loosed of all that might restrain them, and in all honesty they’d prefer to be their own gods. So for this cause they unite against God. We usually believe unity and freedom are good things and prize when people come together for a common purpose like this. We want chains to break and people to be released from slavery. But unity and raging for these chains to break isn’t only a bad thing, it’s fantastically wicked because the freedom the nations after is freedom from God. Yet, such is man. Nothing in the air, the sea, or any animals on land rebelled against God once created. No birds, fish, or cattle raged against God. No, of all the creation only man was made in God’s image, and ironically only man used such privilege to rage against their Creator. Ever since the fall man has been bent against notions of a kingdom of God in which God rules and by which God reigns. And we see this still today. The gospel might at first look very appealing to guilt ridden sinners, to know the pardoning grace of God and the free gift of righteousness? ‘I’ll take that!’ many say. But upon a deeper look, many turn away because even though Jesus will welcome us as we are, warts and all, He doesn’t leave as we are. He isn’t called a King for nothing. He commands, He orders, He governs, and He rules over all things. To those who are lost and far from Christ to hear of or perhaps feel the yoke of Christ is an unbearable burden. But for the redeemed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, it is for us like wings are for a bird.

Here at the end of v3 we can say this, if the conflict between the kings of the earth versus the Lord and His Anointed was only a matter of numbers, we’d have no hope, because two can’t take on the world. But there are none like these two! We see this more in the next stanza.

The Lord Laughs (v4-6)

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.”

The Speaker changes once again, and this time it’s God Himself speaking. How does God respond to the nations raging against Him and His chosen king? Take joy in this Church…God isn’t fretting, worried, or anxious. He’s not scared, alarmed, or running away. No, He laughs. The only place in the entire Bible where God is said to laugh is right here in Psalm 2:4. He laughs because to rage against Him is like a fly attacking an elephant, or a man trying to steal the sun from the heavens.[5] Notice God doesn’t even stand? “He who sits in the heavens laughs…” Take joy in this, take rest in this Church. In all that disquiets and disturbs us, in all that gives us alarm, worry, and fear we need only to look up and see Him who sits so securely on His throne that He laughs at all who attempt to remove Him from it or bring harm on His people!

But observe that God does more than just laugh, He speaks back to the nations that rage against Him, and His words hold His wrath and fury and bring terror to them. What does He say? Despite all the raging, what the nations we’re seeking to prevent God has done. “As for me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.” God laughs against the nations raging because He rests securely in a King He has enthroned on Zion, His holy hill. God’s confidence here is worth mentioning. At best Zion “…is a modest mountain on the crest of which sits a modest fortified town, the capital of a rather small kingdom, surrounded by vast empires. Yet, the Psalmist boldly imagines it as God’s chosen city, divinely endorsed to be queen of the nations and the splendor of mankind.”[6] Why does Zion figure so prominently here? For all the glory of the place, it’s the Person in view, the King God has chosen, in v6 that holds the greatest glory. Who is He? What is He like? What is His relation to God? All this and more we see in the next stanza.

The Son Proclaims (v7-9)

“I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”

For the third time now we’re introduced to a new speaker as a new stanza begins. The Psalmist began Psalm 2 speaking about the nations, God then spoke in response, and now we see God’s chosen King speaking. What does He speak of? He speaks of what God spoke to Him. Specifically of three things: His identity, His activity, and His authority. And as we’ll see, these words in v7-9 are so large and so grand that they fit David or any other Israelite king about as well as NFL shoulder pads fit a fifth grader.[7] They’ll probably sit on their shoulders a little bit, but will look outrageously unfit for so small a man. Conclusion? These words only properly apply to one King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

His Identity, “‘You are My Son; today I have begotten you.” God’s chosen king is said here to be God’s Son. But note that we then see this king became God’s Son not but adoption or by procreation, no, this Son is God’s begotten Son. Meaning this Son has a very special and unparalleled relationship to God the Father. He not only comes from God, He not only represents God, He not only has the life of God within Him, He has ever been with God, and He is God Himself.

His Activity, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” The rule of God’s Son will be a global rule, and the work of God’s Son will be a global work. Just as a son inherits from his father, so too Jesus Christ the Son of God will inherit the whole earth as His gospel brings joy to the world as believers from every nation, tribe, people, and language come streaming in.

His Authority, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The scepter of a king usually symbolizing rule and authority but the scepter of Christ becomes here something like a battle-mace ready to pulverize these nations who rage against Him.[8]

The thrust of Psalm 2 remains, Jesus will spread His rule and reign across the nations, even though the nations rage against Him! What does all this lead to?

The Invitation is Extended (v10-12)

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 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.”

This last stanza breaks the pattern we’ve grown accustomed to in the Psalm. There is another change of speaker here in this stanza, but it’s not a new speaker, it’s the Psalmist of the first stanza speaking again to close it.[9] And he closes with an invitation to the kings of the nations to be wise, to be instructed, to be chastened, to be corrected, warned, and admonished of great danger. Because of all that’s been covered they shouldn’t rage, they should serve/worship the LORD in fear with a holy mixture of rejoicing with trembling. Like servants of old kissed the feet or the rings of their king, so too, the call here is to kiss the Son, not in a Judas type fashion – fake and in betrayal, but to make one’s loyalty and allegiance known, to submit to Him, to accept His reign over you, to yield your will to His, and to obey His laws. But it’s a heartfelt kiss as well. To kiss the Son is to also make your mighty affection known. To announce your adoration and affection for Him. The message is clear: we must love Christ the King or perish in His wrath.[10]

Conclusion:

To put it briefly, Psalm 2 shows us true wisdom, the nature of sin, the reason why men oppose and rage against God. But it also shows us how the Church shouldn’t ever fear because it is easy for God to restrain and defeat His foes. In Him then, we rest assured of victory to come though all else around announces the opposite. In a world in which the reign of God is disputed by many bent on rebellion, with those doing so bringing about much evil in their rebellion, there is good news in the announcement of Psalm 2. God does not greet the rebellion of the nations with indifference or injury, no. God’s reign and rule might be contested, but the outcome is certain! His Son shall reign forevermore![11] The original audience of Psalm 2 would’ve interpreted all of this in reference to their king, the king of Israel, David and his sons. But more is in view as we trace this through down throughout the ages. When it came to David’s sons and Israel’s king’s the grand factor that contributed to their demise was that they failed to live according to God’s Law. So, God’s prophets consistently promised the advent, or the coming, of a Davidic King who would truly live up to God’s Law and show Himself to be God’s true King. Recall that we read of the divine King in v4 and of a human King in v6 whom He placed on His throne. When we get to the pages of the New Testament, these two become One.[12] We see something of this in the words used here. The word ‘Anointed’ in v2 is the Hebrew word meshiach and when it was put into Greek it was translated it as christos. This is where we get the words Messiah and Christ. In this light perhaps we can understand why so many New Testament authors used Psalm 2 to describe Jesus as God’s true King. Hebrews 1 and 5 use Psalm 2 to define Jesus greatness over the angels and Old Testament priests. Paul preached from Psalm 2 in Acts 13 speaking about the resurrection. And Peter’s sermon in Acts 4 helped the early Church understand why they were being so severely persecuted.

As v12 clarifies it for us and presses us to decision: to rage against Christ the King will bring certain ruin, but to yield to Christ the King will bring blessing and joy. What will you do? 

Psalm 2 shows the nations rebelling against God and seeking ‘freedom’ from His rule. Such rebellion from God’s authority that they called freedom only brings bondage. Into this wicked pursuit, God responds, by becoming one of us. The birth of Jesus Christ was proclaimed to be good news of great joy for all the nations and now only in submission to Him and His rule does one find true freedom.[13] Finally, although Jesus Christ fulfills Psalm 2 in His birth and first advent, He has not yet exhausted the promises of Psalm 2. He will and he must reign until His second coming, His second advent, when He will fully and finally break the wicked and dash them to pieces with a rod of iron, and welcome His Church from all nations to Himself.[14]


[1] James A. Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the LORD IS KING (Vol. 1) – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway) 33-34.

[2] Roger E. Van Harn & Brent Strawn, Psalms for the Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009) 56.

[3] William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 2016) 39.

[4] Johnston, 35.

[5] Plumer, 41.

[6] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: The Writings (New York, New York: Norton, 2019) 29.

[7] Johnston, 35.

[8] Alter, 29.

[9] Van Harn & Strawn, 57.

[10] Plumer, 47.

[11] Van Harn & Strawn, 57.

[12] Mark Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Guide (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 2007) 179.

[13] Van Harn & Strawn, 58.

[14] Bruce K. Waltke & James M. Houston, The Psalms As Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2010) 180.

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