Psalm 2 A Devotional by Jack Kettler
In the book of Acts, one reads, “Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said” (Acts 4:25). From this passage from Acts, it is learned that David was the author of this Psalm. In Latin, the phrase “Why do the heathen rage” is known as “Quare fremuerunt gentes,” by which this Psalm is often known. The fact of this is especially true during a musical performance of the Psalm. One example of how the Psalm is preformed musically is Oratorio Noël Saint-Saens – Quare fremuerunt gentes – La Badinerie. In addition, the Psalm is considered Messianic, meaning it is speaking of the hope of the Messiah. When did Christ fulfill this Psalm? According to Acts 13:30-34, the Messianic hope of this Psalm is fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection. Interestingly, George Frideric Handel used nine verses from this Psalm in his classic, “Messiah.” In addition, over half of Psalm 2 has been quoted by the New Testament, either directly or indirectly.
In this devotional, a number of classic commentators will be cited for elucidations on the twelve verses that make up this Psalm.
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
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 break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
From Spurgeon’s classic, The Treasury of David one finds the most excellent commentary on the first three verses:
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
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 break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
“We have, in these first three verses, a description of the hatred of human nature against the Christ of God. No better comment is needed upon it than the apostolic song in Acts 4:27, Acts 4:28: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” The Psalm begins abruptly with an angry interrogation; and well it may: it is surely but little to be wondered at, that the sight of creatures in arms against their God should amaze the psalmist’s mind. We see the heathen raging, roaring like the sea, tossed to and fro with restless waves, as the ocean in a storm; and then we mark the people in their hearts imagining a vain thing against God. Where there is much rage there is generally some folly, and in this case, there is an excess of it. Note, that the commotion is not caused by the people only, but their leaders foment the rebellion. “The kings of the earth set themselves.” In determined malice they arrayed themselves in opposition against God. It was not temporary rage, but deep-seated hate, for they set themselves resolutely to withstand the Prince of Peace. “And the rulers take counsel together.” They go about their warfare craftily, not with foolish haste, but deliberately. They use all the skill which art can give. Like Pharaoh, they cry, “Let us deal wisely with them.” O that men were half as careful in God’s service to serve him wisely, as his enemies are to attack his kingdom craftily. Sinners have their wits about them, and yet saints are dull. But what say they? what is the meaning of this commotion? “Let us break their bands asunder.” “Let us be free to commit all manner of abominations. Let us be our own gods. Let us rid ourselves of all restraint.” Gathering impudence by the traitorous proposition of rebellion, they add – “let us cast away;” as if it were an easy matter, – “let us fling off ‘their cords from us.’” What! O ye kings, do ye think yourselves Samsons? and are the bands of Omnipotence but as green withs before you? Do you dream that you shall snap to pieces and destroy the mandates of God – the decrees of the Most High – as if they were but tow? And do ye say, “Let us cast away their cords from us?” Yes! There are monarchs who have spoken thus, and there are still rebels upon thrones. However mad the resolution to revolt from God, it is one in which man has persevered ever since his creation, and he continues in it to this very day. The glorious reign of Jesus in the latter day will not be consummated, until a terrible struggle has convulsed the nations. His coming will be as a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap, and the day thereof shall burn as an oven. Earth loves not her rightful monarch, but clings to the usurper’s sway: the terrible conflicts of the last days will illustrate both the world’s love of sin and Jehovah’s power to give the kingdom to his only Begotten. To a graceless neck the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light. We may judge ourselves by this, do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us? THE ARGUMENT
The penman of this Psalm was David, as is affirmed, (Acts 4:25). As for the matter or subject of it, it may seem to have some respect unto David, and to his advancement to and settlement in the throne of Judah and Israel; but the chief design and scope of it, and the primary intention of the Holy Ghost in it, was to describe the Messiah and his kingdom, as is manifest,
1. From express testimonies of the New Testament to that purpose, as Acts 4:25 13:33 Hebrews 1:5 5:5; and
2. From the consent of the ancient Hebrew writers, who did unanimously expound it so, as is confessed by their own brethren, particularly by Rabbi Solomon Jarchi upon this place; who hath this memorable passage, Our doctors expounded this Psalm of the King Messiah, but that we may answer the heretics (by which he means the Christians, as all know) it is expedient to interpret it of David’s person, as the words sound; which words, although they are left out of the latter editions of that book, either by the fraud of Jews, or carelessness or mistake of others, yet are extant in the ancient editions of it.
3. From divers passages of the Psalm, which do not agree to David, but to Christ only, the title of Son, of which see Hebrews 1:4,5, the extent of his kingdom, Psalm 2:8, and Divine worship, Psalm 2:11,12.
The kingdom of Christ, and the opposition of the heathen foretold, Psalm 2:1-7. God giveth him the earth for his possession, Psalm 2:8,9. He summons all the kings and judges of the earth to submit themselves to him, Psalm 2:10-12.
Why? upon what provocation, or to what end or purpose?
The heathen, or, Gentiles; who did so against David, as we see, 2 Samuel 5:6,17 1 Chronicles 14:8, &c.; and against Christ, Luke 18:32 Acts 4:25, &c.
And the people: this is either another expression of the same thing, as is usual in Scripture; or as the former word notes the Gentiles, so this may design the Jews or Israelites, who also combined against David, 2 Samuel 2:8, &c., and against Christ, Acts 4:27, though they were all of one nation, and descended from one and the same mother, as this word signifies, and it is used Genesis 25:23.
Imagine a vain thing; what they shall never be able to effect; and if they could, it would do them no good, as they fancy, but great hurt.” (1)
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges entry exposits this concisely:
4. “He that sitteth in the heavens] Enthroned in majesty (Psalm 123:1), but withal watching and controlling the course of events upon the earth (Psalm 11:4; Psalm 103:19; Psalm 113:4 ff.; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 6:16).
shall laugh … shall have them in derision] Or, laugheth … mocketh at them. Cp. Psalm 37:13; Psalm 59:8; Proverbs 1:26. The O.T. uses human language of God without fear of lowering Him to a human level.
the Lord] This is the reading of 1611, restored by Dr Scrivener. Most editions, and R.V., have the Lord, in accordance with the Massoretic Text, which reads Adonai, not Jehovah. The variation is perhaps significant. God is spoken of as the sovereign ruler of the world, rather than as the covenant God of Israel.
4–6. The poet-seer draws aside the veil, and bids us look from earth to heaven. There the supreme Ruler of the world sits enthroned in majesty. With sovereign contempt He surveys these petty plottings, and when the moment comes confounds them with a word.” (2)
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
From the Pulpit Commentary this verse is explained:
“Verse 5. – Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath. “Then” (אָז) means “after a time” – “presently” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), when the fitting period has arrived. “He shall speak” – not in articulate words, not by a voice from heaven, not even by a commissioned messenger, but by accomplished facts. Christ does rule; Christ does reign; he sits a King in heaven, and is acknowledged as a King upon earth. In vain was all the opposition of the Jews, in vain persecution after persecution by the Gentiles. God has established his Church, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And vex them. “Strike terror and dismay into them” (Kay). In his sore displeasure; or, “in the heat of his anger” (Trench and Skinner). Psalm 2:5” (3)
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary describes this:
“6. The purpose here declared, in its execution, involves their overthrow.
Yet—literally, “and,” in an adversative sense.
I have set—anointed, or firmly placed, with allusion in the Hebrew to “casting an image in a mold.” The sense is not materially varied in either case.
my king—appointed by Me and for Me (Nu 27:18).
upon my holy hill of Zion—Zion, selected by David as the abode of the ark and the seat of God’s visible residence (1Ki 8:1); as also David, the head of the Church and nation, and type of Christ, was called holy, and the Church itself came to be thus named (Ps 9:11; 51:18; 99:2; Isa 8:18; 18:7, &c.).” (4)
7 I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on verses 7-9 is brief yet illuminating:
“2:7-9 The kingdom of the Messiah is founded upon an eternal decree of God the Father. This our Lord Jesus often referred to, as what he governed himself by. God hath said unto him, thou art my Son, and it becomes each of us to say to him, Thou art my Lord, my Sovereign’. The Son, in asking the heathen for his inheritance, desires their happiness in him; so that he pleads for them, ever lives to do so, and is able to save to the uttermost, and he shall have multitudes of willing, loyal subjects, among them. Christians are the possession of the Lord Jesus; they are to him for a name and a praise. God the Father gives them to him, when, by his Spirit and grace, he works upon them to submit to the Lord Jesus.” (5)
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible has some of the best commentary on this verse:
“Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings – This is to be understood as the language of the psalmist. See introduction to the psalm, Section 3. It is an exhortation addressed to the rulers and princes whom the psalmist saw engaged in opposition to the purpose of Yahweh Psalm 2:1-3 – and hence, to all rulers and princes – to act the part of wisdom, by not attempting to resist the plans of God, but to submit to him, and secure his friendship. The psalmist cautions them to take warning, in view of what must certainly come upon the enemies of the Messiah; to cease their vain attempts to oppose his reign, and, by a timely submission to him, to ensure his friendship, and to escape the doom that must come upon his foes. The way of wisdom, then, was not to engage in an attempt in which they must certainly be crushed, but to secure at once the friendship of one appointed by God to reign over the earth.
Be instructed – In your duty to Yahweh and his Anointed One; that is, in the duty of submitting to this arrangement, and lending your influence to promote it. The word used here, and rendered “be instructed,” means properly to chastise, chasten, correct; and it here means, be admonished, exhorted, or warned. Compare Proverbs 9:7; Job 4:3; Psalm 16:7.
Ye judges of the earth – Ye who administer justice; that is, ye rulers. This was formerly done by kings themselves, as it is now supposed to be in monarchical governments, where the judges act in the name of the king. In Republics, justice is supposed to be administered by the people through those whom they have appointed to execute it. The word here is equivalent to rulers, and the call is on those who occupy posts of office and honor not to oppose the purposes of Yahweh, but to bring their influence to the promotion of his designs. At the same time, it cannot be doubted that it is implied that they should seek to be interested personally in his reign.” (6)
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Matthew Poole’s Commentary entry on verse eleven in fitting:
“With fear, i.e. with reverence, and an awful sense of his great and glorious majesty, as very careful and diligent to please him, and afraid to offend him.
Rejoice; do not esteem his yoke your dishonour and grievance; but know that it is a greater glory and happiness to be the subjects of this King, than to be emperors of the greatest empire; and accordingly rejoice in it, and bless God for this inestimable grace and benefit.
With trembling: this is added to express the quality of this joy to which he calls them, and to distinguish it from that carnal and worldly rejoicing which is usually attended with security, and presumption, and licentiousness, and to warn them to take heed that they do not turn this grace of God into wantonness, nor slacken their dread of God’s tremendous majesty, and of his terrible judgments, if they should hereafter revolt from him, or rebel against him; but, on the contrary, work out their salvation with fear and trembling, as it is prescribed, Philippians 2:12: compare Matthew 28:8.” (7)
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
John Calvin’s comments on verse twelve are suitable for a final commentary entry:
“12. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled in a moment. O blessed are all who put their trust in him.
David expresses yet more distinctly what kind of fear and service God requires. Since it is the will of God to reign by the hand of his Son, and since he has engraved on his person the marks and insignia of his own glory, the proper proof of our obedience and piety towards him is reverently to embrace his Son, whom he has appointed king over us, according to the declaration,
“He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father who hath sent him,” (John 5:23)
The term kiss refers to the solemn token or sign of honor which subjects were wont to yield to their sovereigns. The sum is, that God is defrauded of his honor if he is slot served in Christ. The Hebrew word vr Bar, signifies both a son and an elect person; but in whatever way you take it, the meaning will remain the same. Christ was truly chosen of the Father, who has given him all power, that he alone should stand pre-eminent above both men and angels. On which account also, he is said to be “sealed” by God, (John 6:27) because a peculiar dignity was, conferred upon him, which removes him to a distance from all creatures. Some interpreters expound it, kiss or embrace what is pure, which is a strange and rather forced interpretation. For my part, I willingly retain the name of son, which answers well to a former sentence, where it was said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.”
What follows immediately after is a warning to those who despise Christ, that their pride shall not go unpunished, as if he had said, As Christ is not despised without indignity being done to the Father, who hath adorned him with his own glory, so the Father himself will not allow such an invasion of his sacred rights to pass unpunished. And to teach them to beware of vainly deceiving themselves with the hope of a lengthened delay, and from their present ease indulging themselves in vain pleasures, they are plainly told that his wrath will be kindled in a moment. For we see, when God for a time connives at the wicked, and bears with them, how they abuse this forbearance, by growing more presumptuous, because they do not think of his judgments otherwise, than according to sight and feeling. Some interpreters, I know, explain the Hebrew word kmt, Camoat, which we have rendered, in a moment, in a different way, namely, that as soon as God’s wrath is kindled in even a small degree, it will be all over with the reprobate. But it is more suitable to apply it to time, and to view it as a warning to the proud not to harden themselves in their stupidity and indifference, nor flatter themselves from the patience of God, with the hope of escaping unpunished. Moreover, although this word appears to be put for the purpose of giving a reason of what goes before, namely, why those who refuse to kiss the Son shall perish, and although the Hebrew word ky, ki, signifies more frequently for than when, yet I am unwilling to depart from the commonly received translation, and have thought it proper to render the original word by the adverb when, which denotes both the reason and time of what is predicated. Some explain the phrases, to perish from the way, as meaning, a perverse way, or wicked manner of listing. Others resolve it thus, lest your way perish, according to that saying of the first psalm, the way of the ungodly shall perish. But I am rather inclined to attach to the words a different meaning, and to view them as a denunciation against the ungodly, by which they are warned that the wrath of God will cut them off when they think themselves to be only in the middle of their race. We know how the despisers of God are accustomed to flatter themselves in prosperity, and run to great excess in riot. The prophet, therefore, with great propriety, threatens that when they shall say, Peace and safety, reckoning themselves at a great distance from their end, they shall be cut off by a sudden destruction, (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
The concluding sentence of the psalm qualifies what was formerly said concerning the severity of Christ; for his iron rod and the fiery wrath of God would strike terror into all men without distinction, unless this comfort had been added. Having, therefore discoursed concerning the terrible judgment which hangs over the unbelieving, he now encourages God’s faithful and devout servants to entertain good hope, by setting forth the sweetness of his grace. Paul likewise observes the same order, (2 Corinthians 10:6) for having declared that vengeance was in readiness against the disobedient, he immediately adds addressing himself to believers “When your obedience is fulfilled.” Now, we understand the meaning of the Psalmist. As believers might have applied to themselves the severity of which he makes mention, he opens to them a sanctuary of hope, whither they may flee, in order not to be overwhelmed by the terror of God’s wrath; just as Joel (Joel 2:32) also after having summoned the ungodly to the awful judgment-seat of God, which of itself is terrible to men, immediately subjoins the comfort, Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For it appears to me that this exclamation, blessed are all they that put their trust in him, should be read as a distinct sentence by itself. The pronoun him may be referred as well to God as to Christ, but, in my judgment, it agrees better with the whole scope of the psalm to understand it of Christ, whom the Psalmist before enjoined kings and judges of the earth to kiss.” (8)
It would be appropriate to close with Charles H. Spurgeon’s EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS on verse twelve:
“Verse 12. “Kiss,” a sign of love among equals: Genesis 33:4; 1 Samuel 20:41; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20. Of subjection in inferiors: 1 Samuel 10:1. Of religious adoration in worshippers: 1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:27. – John Richardson, Bishop of Ardagh, 1655.
Verse 12. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” From the Person, the Son, we shall pass to the act (Osculamini, kiss the Son); in which we shall see, that since this is an act which licentious men have depraved (carnal men do it, and treacherous men do it—Judas betrayed his Master by a kiss), and yet God commands this, and expresses love in this; everything that hath, or may be abused, must not therefore be abandoned; the turning of a thing out of the way, is not a taking of that thing away, but good things deflected to ill uses by some, may be by others reduced to their first goodness. Then let us consider and magnify the goodness of God, that hath brought us into this distance, that we may kiss the Son, that the expressing of this love lies in our hands, and that, whereas the love of the church, in the Old Testament, even in the Canticle, went no farther but to the Osculator me (O that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! Canticles 1:1), now, in the Christian church, and in the visitation of a Christian soul, he hath invited us, enables us to kiss him, for he is presentially amongst us. This leads us to give an earnest persuasion and exhortation to kiss the Son, with all those affections, which we shall there find to be expressed in the Scriptures, in that testimony of true love, a holy kiss. But then, lest that persuasion by love should not be effectual and powerful enough to us, we shall descend from that duty, to the danger, from love, to fear, “lest he be angry;” and therein see first, that God, who is love, can be angry; and then, that this God who is angry here, is the Son of God, he that hath done so much for us, and therefore in justice may be angry; he that is our Judge, and therefore in reason we are to fear his anger: and then, in a third branch, we shall see how easily this anger departs—a kiss removes it.
Verse 12. “Kiss the Son.” That is, embrace him, depend upon him all these ways: as thy kinsman, as thy sovereign; at thy going, at thy coming; at thy reconciliation, in the truth of religion in thyself, in a peaceable unity with the church, in a reverent estimation of those men, and those means, whom he sends. Kiss him, and be not ashamed of kissing him; it is that which the spouse desired, “I would kiss thee, and not be despised.” Canticles 7:1. If thou be despised for loving Christ in his Gospel, remember that when David was thought base, for dancing before the ark, his way was to be more base. If thou be thought frivolous for thrusting in at service, in the forenoon, be more frivolous, and come again in the afternoon: “Tanto major requies, quanto ab amore Jesu nulla requies;” (Gregory) “The more thou troublest thyself, or art troubled by others for Christ, the more peace thou hast in Christ.” . . . . “Lest he be angry.” Anger, as it is a passion that troubles, and disorders, and discomposes a man, so it is not in God; but anger, as it is a sensible discerning of foes from friends, and of things that conduce, or disconduce to his glory, so it is in God. In a word, Hilary hath expressed it well: “Poena patientis, ira decernentis;” “Man’s suffering is God’s anger.” When God inflicts such punishments as a king justly incensed would do, then God is thus angry. Now here, our case is heavier; it is not this great, and almighty, and majestical God, that may be angry—that is like enough; but even the Son, whom we must kiss, may be angry; it is not a person whom we consider merely as God, but as man; may not as man neither, but a worm, and no man, and he may be angry, and angry to our ruin. . . . “Kiss the Son,” and he will not be angry; if he be, kiss the rod, and he will be angry no longer—love him lest he be: fear him when he is angry: the preservative is easy, and so is the restorative too: the balsamum of this kiss is all, to suck spiritual milk out of the left breast, as well as out of the right, to find mercy in his judgments, reparation in his ruins, feasts in his lents, joy in his anger. – From Sermons of John Donne, D.D., Dean of St. Paul’s,1621-1631.
Verse 12. “Kiss the Son.” To make peace with the Father, kiss the Son. “Let him kiss me,” was the church’s prayer. Canticles 1:2. Let us kiss him — that be our endeavour. Indeed, the Son must first kiss us by his mercy, before we can kiss him by our piety. Lord, grant in these mutual kisses and interchangeable embraces now, that we may come to the plenary wedding supper hereafter; when the choir of heaven, even the voices of angels, shall sing epithalamiums, nupital songs, at the bridal of the spouse of the Lamb. – Thomas Adams.
Verse 12. “If his wrath be kindled but a little;” the Hebrew is, if his nose or nostril be kindled but a little; the nostril, being an organ of the body in which wrath shows itself, is put for wrath itself. Paleness and snuffling of the nose are symptoms of anger. In our proverbials, to take a thing in snuff, is to take it in anger. – Joseph Caryl.
Verse 12. “His wrath.” Unspeakable must the wrath of God be when it is kindled fully, since perdition may come upon the kindling of it but a little. – John Newton.” (9)
The thrust of Psalm two is witnessing the God of Israel who inaugurates the King on Mt. Zion. Who is this King? It is God’s Anointed One, the Messiah!
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. I, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 10-11.
2. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, A. F. KIRKPATRICK, D.D., Psalms of (Cambridge University Press, 1906), p. 9.
3. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Psalms, Vol. 8., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 11.
4. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 407.
5. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Psalms, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 798.
6. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Psalms, Vol. 5, p. 92-93.
7. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Psalms, Vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 3-4.
8. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Psalms, Volume IV, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 21-27.
9. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. I, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 19-20.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com