Psalm 2 provides us with a glorious vision of God’s interpretation of the flow of human history. It relates the cosmic turmoil among the nations to the prophetic assurance of its glorious outcome. Thus, it follows the pattern of the protoevangelium (Ge 3:15), showing temporal struggle followed by historical victory.
The psalm opens with the nations noisily raging “against the Lord and against his Anointed One” (Ps 2:1–3) . Ultimately considered, the world’s turmoil grows up from opposition to God’s authority, which is the essence of all sin (Ge 3:5; Ro 1:18–21). The nations of the world are seeking to free themselves from the sovereign rule of the Lord and his Anointed: “Let us break their chains” (v 3).
Their rage is not only intrinsically evil but pathetically futile, for the Lord sits serenely enthroned in transcendent majesty above: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; / the Lord scoffs at them” (v 4). Here the psalmist bitingly portrays God’s confidence in his laughing mockery of the nations’ opposition against him and his “Anointed One” (v. 2). In Psalm 2:2 the term “Anointed One” (Heb.: “messiah”) designates the great Deliverer and King, whom the Jews long expected (see: Jn 1:20, 24–25, 41, 49; cp. Mk 15:32; Lk 24:19–21). He is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Mk 8:29–30; 14:61–62).
The New Testament interprets this psalm messianicly, with the nations expressly raging at the crucifixion: “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (Ac 4:25–27). In the crucifixion this psalm “attained its height, but was not finally exhausted or fulfilled” in that the cosmic battle rages on.1
In v 5 the long-suffering confidence of God gives way to his righteous indignation: “Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” In fact, in Psalm 2 David borrows four Hebrew terms (‘az, nibhalu, ‘ele, yoseb) from Exodus 15, where a celebration-song recounts the routing of Egypt and anticipates the terror of Israel’s Canaanite enemies. Messiah will vanquish the raging nations of the world as surely as God conquers Israel’s Canaanite foes. Alexander comments: That such folly “is often suffered to proceed long with impunity is only, in the figurative language of this passage, because God first laughs at human folly, and then smites it.”2 Providence moves slowly in that “with the Lord . . . a thousand years are like a day” (2Pe 3:8).
In contrast to the nations’ futile rage, God sovereignly declares: “But I [emphatic personal pronoun in the Hebrew] have installed my King on Zion” (v. 6). God does not speak of this installed one as “a king” or “the king,” but as “my King.” Verse 7 expands our understanding of this installation, showing the Messiah himself speaking: “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: / He said to me, ‘You are my Son; / today I have become your Father.’” The “decree” is a pledge of adoption by God, a holy coronation rite establishing this King’s legitimacy (see: 2Sa 7:13–14; Ps 89:26–27).
The word “today” suggests a formal moment at which the title applies to the new ruler. Rather, than occurring at Christ’s second advent, as many assume, the New Testament relates it once again to the first century: at the exaltation of Christ beginning with his resurrection. “God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’” (Ac 13:33; cp. Ro 1:4). At the resurrection/ascension God installs Christ as the King (Ro 1:4), who will rule from God’s right hand (Ro 14:9–11; Eph 1:20ff; Co. 1:18; 1Pe 3:22; Rev 17:14; 19:16). The Great Commission speaks of Christ’s being “given” all authority — apparently at his recent resurrection (Mt 28:18; cp. the aorist tense in Php 2:9).
But what of this installation “on Zion”? Zion is an historical site, to be sure; it is a Jebusite fortress David captures and renames the “City of David” (2Sa 5:6–9). With David’s bringing the Ark to Zion, the hill becomes sacred (2Sa 6:10–12). Because of its holy significance, then, the name “Zion” gradually applies beyond the historical site to include Mount Moriah where Solomon builds the temple (Isa 8:18; Joel 3:17; Mic 4:7) — and eventually to all of Jerusalem (2Ki 19:21; Ps 48:2, 11–13; 69:35; Isa 1:8). “Zion became in Hebrew tradition the central symbol of God’s rule, the kingdom of God, a realm of justice, righteousness, and peace.”3
As such it can even represent the whole Jewish nation (Isa 40:9; Zec 9:13). In the New Testament Zion/Jerusalem transcends Old Testament realities, reaching to heaven itself (Gal 4:25–26; Heb 12:22; Rev 14:1). Thus, God transfers the center of theocratic rule to heaven, where Christ presently rules over his kingdom (Jn 18:36; Rev 1:5).
Now all that the enthroned Messiah need do is “ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (v 8). The Lord promises his Messiah the “nations” (not just one nation, Israel) and “the ends of the earth” (not just one region, Palestine) as his permanent ‘possession” (v 8). Though they will resist him (vv 2:1–3), he will break them in his dominion (v 9).
Remarkably, this securing of “the nations” is the very task the Messiah assigns to his followers in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19a; see discussion below). He will rule over them with his rod and dash in pieces those who refuse to submit (Ps 2:9). This he does through his mighty word and under his controlling providence (Heb 1:3, 8–13; e.g., Mt 21:43–44). Because of this ultimate hope, the raging nations receive warning: “Therefore, you kings, be wise; / be warned, you rulers of the earth. / Serve the LORD with fear / and rejoice with trembling. / Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, / for his wrath can flare up in a moment. / Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Ps 2:10–12).
This psalm gloriously develops the redemptive-historical theme of struggle and victory which begins with the protoevangelium. It throbs with historical optimism and serves virtually as a postmillennial tract urging confidence in God’s people.
1. J. A. Alexander, The Psalms, 14.
2. Alexander, The Psalms, 15.
3. Lamontte M. Luker, “Zion” in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, 986.