Monday, December 31, 2012

Psalm 2

I suggested in the last psalm that 1 & 2 function as an introductory pair. In such a pairing, psalm 2 introduces us to a second major theme of the whole book of Psalms: the Davidic King. While it is unlikely that David wrote all the psalms, there is a sense in which they are all psalms ‘of David’, because the Davidic king is never far from view. Nowhere is this more evident in Psalm 2.

The psalm falls neatly into 4 sections. In vv1-3 we hear the plot against the Davidic King, which is equally a conspiracy against God. The close relationship between God and his Anointed is seen in v2. To some extent, this was always Israel’s situation – surrounded by hostile enemies.

The second section (4-6) gives us a heavenly perspective: God himself mocks their pitiful attempts at rebellion, but his mockery is matched with wrath.

The third section (7-9) shifts speakers briefly to the King himself, who then declares God’s decree. The relationship between the King and God is expressed with a unique sonship. The words, “You are my Son” are to be read declaratively – they enact what they proclaim, so that the King becomes the adopted son of God. Furthermore, as God’s unique son, the King is promised a universal rule and power to destroy the rebellious rulers.

The final section includes a summons to wisdom, this time not generic like psalm 1, but addressed to rebellious rulers who are warned to make their peace with and submit to the King, the Son, or else.
The psalm itself is not overly difficult. Yet it throws up all sorts of questions. It is very difficult to fit the psalm historically to any particular king. Rather it seems to function both idealistically, and then prophetically. First, it represents an idealisation of Israel’s situation – the king as God’s appointed ruler, subject to hostile forces, but God himself has established him and will guarantee his ultimate triumph. To the extent that the history of Israel and Judah ultimately fails in this regard, the Psalm talks on a prophetic force. If not this anointed king, then who?

The New Testament doesn’t invent messianic expectations, but it does reflect a world in which messianic expectations are both developed and widely-understood. At what point Psalm 2 became a part of those hopes is difficult to say. The NT has no qualms about reading this psalm as straightforwardly applicable to Jesus.

The NT applies it in 3 ways.
1. In Acts 4:25-26 the apostolic prayer cites this psalm, and applies it to the conspiracy of Herod, Pontius, and both Jews and Gentiles against Jesus as God’s predestined plan. The apostles understand this psalm to prophetically depict the opposition to God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and to apply to the aftermath of the crucifixion, the state of the church.
2. Psalm 2:7 is both explicitly (Act 13:33, Heb 1:5, 5:5) and implicitly (2 Pet 1:17, Mt 3:17, 17:5) applied to Jesus as the unique Son. This goes beyond the language of ‘Son of God’, which seems both in the OT and NT to refer to the King of Israel, to an ontological relationship of Father-Son[1].
3. Rev 12:5, 19:15 picks up the language of ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Ps 2:8-9) and apply it to Jesus. To the extent that this is unfulfilled now, it holds out a prophetic promise referring to the second coming.

A psalm for the church. 
As we sing and pray this psalm, we are reminded that the time of the church in this world is rarely, if ever, one of triumph or dominance. Our situation is much like that of idealised Israel – surrounded by foes in rebellion against God and against his Anointed. The promises to that King find their fulfilment in Jesus, and so in the face of ongoing suffering and persecution we look to the faithfulness of God to fulfil his words, and the return of Christ in all his glory. The final words of the psalm contrast and complement those of Psalm 1:1, 6. Blessing is found in the wisdom of the Lord’s instruction, and refuge in the Son. Destruction awaits the wicked and the rebellious.

[1] ‘Son of God’ is rarely, even in the NT, stating that Jesus is God’s Son, in theological and trinitarian terms. Rather, its primary significance seems to be in denoting Jesus as the Anointed King of Israel. The language of ‘Father’, and of ‘Son’ without further qualification, is more than enough to establish the trinitarian formulation of the Father, Son and Spirit.


Andrew Sanford said...
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Seumas Macdonald said...

Hi Andrew, so nice to receive your comment. Reminds me I need to keep blogging on the psalms here, among other things.

If you don't mind, please send an email to me. I'm in Thailand right now and emails are easier to respond to.