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Psalm 2 - An Introduction (Part 1)

Nahum O'Brien on March 6, 2018


Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 

"Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." 

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 

Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

"As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill." 

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 

You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." 

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.


Before we begin walking through Psalm 2, we need to be aware of certain difficulties facing the reader or interpreter of this particular Psalm (and other Psalms like it). The main difficulty is a matter of interpretation. Specifically, to what extent is Psalm 2 (and other “messianic” psalms) referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. William Plumer notes, 

“The weightiest matter in controversy respecting the interpretation of the Psalms regards their application to Christ.” 

In other words, to what extent are they Messianic? Let us be perfectly clear, Psalm 2 is most definitely a Messianic psalm. A messianic psalm is one that speaks directly of Jesus Christ. The debate or question is in regards to what extent each particular psalm speaks of Jesus Christ. Take for instance Psalm 22:1a (a psalm of David), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Obviously, we remember that these are the very words Jesus Christ cried out on the cross in Matthew 27:46. There is no question then that the Holy Spirit of Christ spoke those exact words prophetically through David in reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The question is whether Psalm 22:1a has any direct application to the psalmist David.

So, to what extent are the psalms messianic? This is not a new debate. Take for instance Psalm 1 which we have already studied. Psalm 1 contains no direct clear Messianic distinction. To say it another way, there is nothing distinctly Messianic contained in Psalm 1. Thus when John Calvin taught Psalm 1, he focuses “entirely on the blessedness of God’s devout servants, with no mention of Christ.” In contrast, as Richard Belcher points out, Martin Luther considers Psalm 1 to speak literally concerning Jesus Christ. Luther stressed the appropriateness of jumping straight from the psalm to Christ when applicable. Calvin stressed the human author and the historical situation, while also acknowledging that the meaning of the text may go beyond the historical situation to speak of the future coming of the Messiah and his kingdom.

The interpretive issue goes a bit deeper. Clearly the psalter testifies of and points to Jesus Christ. Jesus himself says so in Luke 24:44:

Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

So Jesus definitively declares that the Psalter testifies of him. Yet we must be careful to note that not everything in the Psalter is applicable to Jesus Christ. Take for instance Psalm 69:5, “O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” It would be heretical and contradictory to claim this psalmist here speaks of or prophesies of Jesus Christ. Why? Jesus Christ was without sin, sinless. 1 Peter 2:21-22, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Thus, Psalm 69:5 must then be interpreted in light of the psalmists own experience. Psalm 51, concerning David’s repentant heart in light of his sin with Bathsheba, would be interpreted in like manner. 

So there is a danger in trying to fit Christ into every detail of every psalm. And there are people who attempt this, they would take Psalm 69:5 for instance to be in reference to the sin that Jesus bore on the cross, a sin not His own, but that was placed upon Him. Speaking of this type of extremely analogous interpretation Vitringa writes:

I do not deny that many men men of uninstructed faculties and of shallow judgment have, in almost every age of the Church, commended to persons like themselves, under the name of allegorical interpretations of Scripture, certain weak and stupid fancies, in which there is neither unction, judgment, nor spiritual discernment: and have sought for those mysteries of theirs which spring from a most frigid invention, either in improper places, or promiscuously in every place, without any discrimination of circumstances, without any foundation in allegory, or in verisimilitude of language: so that I do not wonder that it has occurred to many sensible persons to doubt, whether it would not be better to abandon this study altogether, to the skillful use of which experience teaches us the abilities of but very few are adequate, than to expose Holy Scripture to the senseless experiments of the unskillful, so as to cause great injury to itself, and to excite the applause of the profane.

The other extreme is to limit messianic psalms to those specifically identified as such in the New Testament. To this view Plumer writes:

To say nothing in the Old Testament is a type of Christ unless expressly stated in the New Testament is as contrary to reason as to say that no prophecy of the Old Testament relates to Christ unless it is quoted as such in the New.

There is clear danger in trying to fit Christ into every detail of every psalm. However, there is also a danger in rejecting even the most striking and obvious messianic details unless expressly identified so in the New Testament. Consider again Psalm 1 for example. Are we to say because there is no direct messianic reference, that Psalm 1 has no connection to Jesus Christ? As we seen in our study of Psalm 1, the “blessed” man finds no truer fulfillment than in the person of Jesus Christ.