There are four voices or speakers in Psalm 2: (1) Mankind (kings of the nations) vv. 1–3; (2) God the Father vv. 4–6; (3) God the Son vv. 7–9; (4) God the Holy Spirit vv. 10–12.
These four speakers could be described in the following way:
(1) The Voice of Anarchy vv. 1–3
(2) The Voice of Anger vv.4–6
(3) The Voice of Authority vv. 7–9
(4) The Voice of Admonition vv. 10–12
These divisions are a good way of dividing the psalm and enabling our understanding of its prophetic meaning.
The Voice of Anarchy—Casting Away Restraint
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us” vv. 1–3.
The theme of Psalm 2 is the government of the earth. In fact when it comes to prophecy generally, that is its main focus: God’s government will rule the whole world under Messiah.1 Ultimately, all prophecy points us to that prospect. The Spirit of prophecy in the messianic psalms also points us to Messiah’s sufferings, but His sufferings are not the subject of Psalm 2. Rather, man has rejected God’s authority, but God has ordained the world to be ruled by His Son.
The psalmist predicts a time when the nations would “rage” and be in “agitation”2 to reject God’s government (vv. 1–2). This was partially fulfilled in the past when both Jew and Gentile rulers were complicit in Christ’s rejection and death. We read that both Herod and Pilate “were gathered together against” Christ (see Acts 4:25–27). However this should be understood as a partial or initial fulfillment; the ultimate manifestation of this enmity, and the fulfillment of this prophecy, will be seen increasingly toward the end of the age3 with a final manifestation at Armageddon (Rev.19:19).4
The rulers of the nations want to be free of God’s “bonds” and “cords,” which are emblematic of the restraints of His authority (v. 3). The Hebrew word for “bonds” originally had to do with parental restraints over a child. Similarly, the word “cords” had the idea of “fetters” or “governors.” For example, sometimes trucks, buses, or official vehicles, will have mechanical governors on the motors so they cannot exceed the speed limit.
Note the word “against” in the opening verse. In our own day, we see governments throwing off the vestiges of Christianity and its moral claims. The rulers of the world are against the Lord and against His Christ. Dear reader, do not be fooled, the world is still against Him. Simeon prophesied that the Lord Jesus would be “a sign which shall be spoken against” (Lk. 2:34).
Several years ago there was a spate of books written by several prominent atheistic philosophers and scientists attacking the veracity of Christianity and the very existence of God. The international media have given a high profile to such works as: “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “The End of Faith ” by Sam Harris. Should we be surprised? Men don’t expend such energy to refute myths. In what another has called, “the animus of examination”, he correctly observes: “Men resist it (Christianity) because it is true. Did it not reach their conscience, they would not take so much pains to get rid of and disprove it” (J. N. Darby).5
In the end, even their attacks will be for the glory of God, because in so doing they are fulfilling His Word, for it is predicted that “scoffers will come in the last days” (2 Pet.3:3). As the psalmist says, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You” (Ps.76:10). God is sovereign and can utilize His enemies’ attacks in a way that will fulfill His own purposes. Psalm 2:2 says that these rulers are “against the Lord and against His Anointed.”6 Indeed it is written: “The Lord will come in power to judge men “of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 16).
The Voice of Anger—God’s Laughter
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” vv. 4–6.
Man thinks that he is in control and can cast off God’s authority with impunity, without there being any consequences or repercussions. But “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord7 shall hold them in derision” (v. 4). This is an anthropomorphism of course, a human characteristic applied to God; it is used to describe God’s attitude or disposition toward the apostates of the last days and their rejection of His Son. Their boasted power will come to nothing when God begins to act.
The day of accounting will come when God will judge the “living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5). The focus of this psalm is the judgment of the living. God “will speak” to the nations through “that Man whom He has ordained” as we learn throughout the word of God (Acts 17:31; Jn. 5:27).
“Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” God has declared that His Son will reign in royal power from Jerusalem. This is so certain that though it is yet future, He speaks of it in the past tense (v. 6)! Zion in this passage is the city of Jerusalem on earth and thus should be understood literally. Zion is the seat of Christ’s royal supremacy in the earth.8 Christ will rule over the earth with Jerusalem being the center of that rule (see Isa. 2; Zech. 14 etc.). The character of Messiah’s coming rule is a very large subject and many details are given through the prophets. Psalm 2 merely states the fact of that rule and that it will be an absolute monarchy (see v. 9).
Sometimes it is asked, “What is God’s ideal form of government?” We may tend to think that western liberal democracy would be the natural answer. Others perhaps have different political theories which they prefer, or think are more suitable. However, it is plain from the Scriptures that God is a monarchist! But we should make no mistake, God has only one King in view: His beloved Son. This is what Psalm 2 is teaching us.
[Continued in the next post (Ed.)]
1. 1 Peter 1:11 – inspired prophecy reveals “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” In Psalm 2 it is the glory of the Son and the power of His coming kingdom which will govern the nations. Messiah’s sufferings as such are not revealed in this Psalm.
2. Verse 1 – “Rage” NKJV with footnote: “throng tumultuously”; Darby translation: “tumultuous agitation.”
3. 2 Thessalonians 2:7–8.
4. The actions of Herod and Pilate in fulfilling Psalm 2:1–2 can be viewed as a prophetic foreshadowing of what will come: the league between the apostate Gentiles led by the western Beast and the apostate Jews and their Antichrist against the Lamb, God’s King. Certainly Psalm 2 looks far beyond just the league between Herod and Pilate and their sentence against Christ (Lk. 23:12).
5. The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 6, The Irrationalism of Infidelity.
6. “Anointed” means the Christ. Italics in these scripture quotations are mine.
7. Adonai is used here, not Yahweh. Adonai means “supreme Master” and is perfectly suited in this passage.
8. The first mention of Zion is when David defeated the Jebusites who were dwelling there as he began to consolidate his kingdom as God’s anointed (see 2 Sam. 5:6–7).