Psalm 2
Pulpit Commentary
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
Verse 1. - Why do the heathen rage? The psalmist writes with a vision before his eyes. He "sees Jehovah upon his throne, and Messiah entering upon his universal dominion. The enemies of both on earth rise up against them with frantic tumult, and vainly strive to east off the fetters of their rule." Hence his sudden outburst. "What ails the heathen (goim)," he says. "that they rage?" or "make an uproar" (Kay), or "assemble tumultuously" (margin of Authorized Version and Revised,Version)? What are they about? What do they design? And why do the people - rather, the peoples, or "the masses" (Kay) - imagine (or, meditate) a vain thing? It must be "a vain thing;" i.e. a purpose which will come to naught, if it is something opposed to the will of Jehovah and Messiah. The vision shows the psalmist Jew and Gentile banded together against the gospel of Christ. Its scope is not exhausted by the exposition of Acts 4:26, but extends to the whole struggle between Christianity on the one hand, and Judaism and paganism on the other. "The peoples" still to this day "imagine a vain thing" - imagine that Christianity will succumb to the assaults made upon it - will fade, die away, and disappear.
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
Verse 2. - The kings of the earth set themselves; or, draw themselves up in array (comp. Jeremiah 46:4). Such kings as Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Nero, Galerius, Diocletian, Julian the Apostate, etc. There is always a warfare between the world and the Church, in which kings are apt to take a part, most often on the worldly side. And the rulers take counsel together. "Rulers" are persons having authority, but below the rank of kings Such were the ethnarchs and tetrarchs of the first century, the governors of provinces under the Roman emperor, the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the like. These last frequently "took counsel against the Lord" (see Matthew 26:3 - 5; Matthew 27:1; Acts 4:5, 6; Acts 5:21-41). Against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying. In David's time the recognized "anointed of the Lord" was the divinely appointed King of Israel (1 Samuel 2:10; 1 Samuel 12:3, 5; 1 Samuel 16:6; 1 Samuel 24:6, 10; 1 Samuel 26:7, 16; 2 Samuel 1:14, 16: 19:21; 22:51; Psalm 17:50; 20:6; 28:8) - first Saul, and then David; but David here seems to designate by the term a Greater than himself - the true theocratic King, whom he typified.
Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
Verse 3. - Let us break their bands asunder. Wicked men always feel God's rule and his Law to be restraints. They chafe at them, fret against them, and, in the last resort - so far as their will goes - wholly throw them off. And cast away their cords from us. "Bands" and "cords" are the fetters that restrain prisoners. The rebels determine to burst them, and assert their absolute freedom.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
Verse 4. - He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. God "laughs" at the vain and futile efforts of man to escape from the control of his laws and throw off his dominion (comp. Psalm 37:13; Psalm 59:8). It is impossible that these efforts should succeed. Men must obey God willingly, or else unwillingly. The Lord (Adonay in the ordinary Hebrew text, but a large number of manuscripts have Jehovah) shall have them in derision. "Laughter" and "derision" are, of course, anthropo-morphisms. It is meant that God views with contempt and scorn man's weak attempts at rebellion.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
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).
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
Verse 6. - Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion; literally, and as for me, I have set my King upon Zion, the mount of my holiness. The words are uttered by Jehovah, and must refer to the Anointed One of ver. 2. This Anointed One God has set up as King upon Zion, his holy mountain. Without denying some reference to David, the type, we must regard the Anti-type, Christ, as mainly pointed at. Christ is set up for ever as King in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2-7; Revelation 22:1 5). There is no need to substitute "anointed" for "set" or" set up," as is done by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Ewald, Zuuz, Umbreit, and others, since גסך has both meanings (comp. Proverbs 8:23).
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Verse 7. - I will declare the decree. It is best to suppose that Messiah here takes the word, and maintains it to the end of ver. 9, when the psalmist resumes in his own person. Messiah "declares," or publishes, a "decree," made by God the Father in the beginning of all things, and communicated by him to the Son, whereby he made known the relationship between them, and invested the Son with sovereign power over the universe. The Lord hath said unto me; rather, said unto me (see the Revised Version). It was said, once for all, at a distant date. Thou art my Son. Not "one of my sons,,' but "my Son;" i.e. my one Son, my only one - "my Son" κατ ἐξοχήν (comp. Psalm 89:27; Hebrews 1:5). This day have I begotten thee. If it be asked, "Which day?" the answer would seem to be, the day when Christ commenced his redemptive work: then the Father "committed all judgment" - "all dominion over creation" to the Son" (John 5:22), gave him, as it were, a new existence, a new sphere, the throne of the world, and of all that is or that ever will be, in it (see 'Speaker's Commentary,' ad loc.).
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Verse 8. - Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance. A very small part of the heathen were the inheritance of David, and therefore the Messiah only can be spoken of in this verse. Before Messiah "all kings" were to "fall down; all nations to do him service" (Psalm 72:11; comp. Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 60:3, 4; Matthew 28:19, etc.). And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (comp. Isaiah 52:10; Jeremiah 16:19; Micah 5:4; Zechariah 9:10; Acts 13:47).
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Verse 9. - Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron. It is said that these words, and those of the next clause, "cannot describe the mild rule of Christ" (Rosenmuller, Do Wette, Hupfeld, etc.). But the objectors forget that there is a severe, as well as a mild, side to the dealings of God with his human creatures. St. Paul notes in the same verse both the "severity" and the "goodness" of God (Romans 11:22). Christ, though "the Prince of Peace," "came to send a sword upon the earth" (Matthew 10:34). As the appointed Judge of men, he takes vengeance on the wicked, while he rewards the righteous (Luke 3:17; Matthew 25:46). Nay, St. John, in the Apocalypse, declares that "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations. and "ye shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Revelation 19:15; comp. 2:27; 12:5). So, with respect to the other clause of the verse - Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel - it is to be noted that there is a similar threat made by the Lord of hosts against Jerusalem in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 19:11), and that under the new covenant the same is threatened in the Revelation (Revelation 2:27). In truth, both covenants are alike in denouncing the extreme of God's wrath on impenitent sinners, such as those here spoken of.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Verse 10. - Be wise now therefore, O ye kings. The remainder of the psalm contains the advice of the psalmist to the rebels of vers. 1-3, and to all who may be inclined to imitate them. "Be wise," he says," be prudent. For your own sakes desist from attempts at rebellion. Jehovah and Messiah are irresistible. Ye will find it "hard to kick against the pricks.'" Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. "Be taught," i.e., "by experience, if ye are not wise enough to know beforehand, that opposition to God is futile." Compare the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38, 39).
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Verse 11. - Serve the Lord with fear. "If ye will not serve him (i.e. honour and obey him) from love, do it from fear;" "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). And rejoice. Do not be content with fear. Go on from fear to love, and so to joy. Good men "rejoice in God alway" (Philippians 4:4). But such rejoicing must be with trembling; or, with reverence (Prayer-book Version), since no service is acceptable to God but such as is rendered "with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
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.
Verse 12. - Kiss the Son. It is certainly remarkable that we have here a different word for "Son" from that employed in ver. 7, and ordinarily in the Hebrew Bible. Still, there is other evidence that the word here used, bar, existed in the Hebrew no less than in the Aramaic, viz. Proverbs 31:2, where it is repeated thrice. It was probably an archaic and poetic word, like our "sire" for "father," rarely used, but, when used, intended to mark some special dignity. Hengstenberg suggests that the writer's motive in prefering bar to ben in this place was to avoid the cacophony which would have arisen from the juxtaposition of ben and pen (פן); and this is quite possible, but as a secondary rather than as the main reason. By "kiss the Son" we must understand "pay him homage," salute him as King in the customary way (see 1 Samuel 10:1). Lest he be angry. The omission of a customary token of respect is an insult which naturally augers the object of it (Esther 3:5). And ye perish from the way; or, as to the way." To anger the Son is to bring destruction on our "way," or course in life. When his wrath is kindled but a little; rather, for soon his wrath may be kindled (see the Revised Version). Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. The writer ends with words of blessing, to relieve the general severity of the psalm (comp. Psalm 3:8; Psalm 5:12; Psalm 28:9; Psalm 41:13, etc.). (On the blessedness of trusting in God, see Psalm 34:8; Psalm 40:4; Psalm 84:12, etc.)

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