Psalm Two: Coronation of a King

Psalm 2 is famous for being the first Messianic or Royal psalm. Verse 2 is the reason for this:

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed…

The word “anointed” is Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek. Christians would later apply this psalm to the “ideal king,” the Messiah, who is a Son of David.

This psalm also holds the distinction of being the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. It is applied no less than five times to Christ and His kingdom (Matt. 3:17; Acts 4:25, 26; 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). This fact seems to point to a “universal rebellion” against, not just David’s rule of Israel, but against God’s rule, which is the essential nature of sin.

Originally it was composed for the coronation of Israel’s kings. Some scholars think it may have been recited by the king himself and it was probably based on the prophet Nathan’s oracle as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:8—16.

In terms of its structure, psalm 2 is made up of four stanzas with three verses in each. There are three speakers: the author, the Lord, and the king.

1. Rebellion of the nations, verses 1—3

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? (vs. 1)

The “nations” refers to Gentile nations (the Hebrew word is goyim) that surrounded Israel. “Conspire” can also be translated “rage” or “assemble in tumult.” The idea is that these non-Israelite nations are gathering together to oppose Israel, or more specifically, Israel’s God. The deeds of the gentile nations are described as “in vain,” or mad and futile. To oppose God’s people and God Himself is ridiculous; it’s a foolish and irrational thing to attempt.

From a general indictment against Gentile nations, the psalmist narrows down their offenses: they are plotting to overthrow God and His King.

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed… (vs. 2)

The rebellion of these Gentile nations is not just political, it is a personal assault against God and Christ; it goes far beyond any Davidic king. The rebels are determined free themselves from the godly influence of Israel:

Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles. (vs. 3)

There is some interesting wordplay going on in these verses that goes unnoticed in its English translations. The same Hebrew word behind the word “conspire” in 2:1 is behind the the word “meditate” in 1:2—

...but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

The godly man uses his energies delighting in God’s Word, but the ungodly use theirs to plot against God and His King.

This is a pathetically tragic description of the godless of every generation. The world at large stands opposed to God and God’s people. The unsaved continually try to find ways to escape the righteous demands of God. Time and time again, from generation to generation, the lost are always seen trying to find ways to go around God and God’s Word and to undo or at least frustrate the Work of Christ.

2. God’s response, verses 4—6

The picture of God in verse 4 catches us off guard. How often to think of God as “laughing?”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. (vs. 4)

Does God really laugh at anything or anybody? The Bible often attributes to God certain human features and attitudes, not with the intention of lowering God to our level, but to help us relate to how God feels. God is seen “sitting in the heavens,” far above our level, laughing and deriding the foolishness of sinners trying to do anything against Him. He scoffs at the futility of human actions, but at the same time God is angry at the whole notion that mere sinners would even date to try doing anything in opposition to His people, His King, or Himself.

He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath… (verse 5)

Interestingly, God’s anger is manifested by His Word; that is, by His speech. He simply rebukes the rebels. The power of God’s Word! All He has to do is but speak and confusion ensues among His enemies. They are filled with terror at the expression of God’s displeasure. What exactly terrified them? It was the defiant words of verse 6:

I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.

The king of Israel (David or Solomon, or whomever it was at the time) was God’s man; chosen and ordained by God. God’s king ruled on Mount Zion (Jerusalem). Literally, “Zion, the mountain of my holiness.” God’s king, in other words, is God’s appointed and God’s anointed. The king rules with God’s authority; to resist him is to resist God.

Liberals like to use this verse to teach that Psalm 2 only refers to the Davidic kings. This is completely unwarranted. Clearly the Psalmist had no idea of the weight and extent of his words. How could he know that Christians, thousands of years later, would rightly apply them to Jesus?

3. Reassurance of the king, verses 7—9

Now the king speaks:

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” (vs. 7)

The “Lord’s decree” is really the God’s “constitution of the Kingdom,” or His will concerning the king. These stunning words were applied to the resurrection of Christ by Paul (Acts 13:13), and by the writer to the Hebrews, referring to the sonship of Jesus being vastly superior to angels (Heb. 1:5) and to Christ’s having been made a great High Priest by God’s personal decision (Heb. 5:5).

Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (vs. 8)

What a marvelous offer the Father makes the Son: the world for an inheritance. The rebellious Gentile nations of the first verse will, in time, become the sole property of the King (the Messiah). The local context, in reference to the temporal kings of Israel, cannot support the true extent of verse 8 alone; this far-reaching offer made by God must be to someone greater than any earthly king!

While some scholars see a kind of missionary statement in this verse—that God will give His Son all people in time—it is probably more judgmental and judicial. Since the goyim nations are rebels and dangerous to the Kingdom, He will crush them; forcing them into submission. The only way for any of them to avoid this certain punishment is obedience to the commands that follow.

4. Repentance demanded, verses 10—12

The remaining verses contain five commands to the leaders of the nations. Instead of pursuing their fruitless rebellion, the people were urged to:

  • wise up, vs. 10;
  • learn or be instructed, vs. 10;
  • serve the Lord with fear, vs. 11;
  • rejoice or celebrate the Lord’s rule, vs. 11;
  • kiss the Son, vs. 12.

Modern Christians should take special note of the admonition of verse 11:

Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Sadly neither of these things happens very often in our churches. Rarely do we “serve the Lord with fear.” Usually we serve the Lord begrudgingly. And far too often when we celebrate and rejoice in our worship, we lose all sense of decorum and dignity. Do we appear as court jesters in our worship services, or do we worship the Lord, enjoying our positions as children of God?

Just as those nations rebelled against God and His king, so their repentance must include God and His Son, the king. To “kiss the Son” means to pay Him homage. Harrison interprets the phrase in the traditional way: Bow to the ground before Him.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (vs. 12b)

This last phrase is for believers. Only those who place their full faith and trust in God are able to “take refuge in him.

So Psalm 2 ends with a beautiful promise, using the exact thought with which Psalm 1 began:

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord…

To trust the Lord is to put yourself in His care, under His protection. As sin and rebellion led only to destruction and death, trust and obedience bring God’s blessing.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. (Psalm 32:10)

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