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Psalm 2 - An Introduction (Part 2)

Nahum O'Brien on March 8, 2018


So we’ve seen that there is a danger of forcing every detail of every psalm to be messianic. Additionally, we’ve seen that there is a danger of being too rigid in our application of Christ to the psalm. So what are we to do? Let’s return to our example of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Should we ignore any historical aspect of David’s use of these words and skip directly to messianic application? Or is there historical application to be made in regard to David’s life which through type and shadow point to Jesus Christ. I agree with Plumer:

Let us then in all cases admit the literal or primary sense of Scripture. But this should not hinder us from also admitting in many cases the spiritual or secondary sense. A thing spoken of David may be literally true of him. Thus we have the primary sense. But David was a type of Christ, and what he says primarily of himself may have a secondary fulfillment in Christ, and so we get the spiritual sense.

It is clear that Psalm 22:1 contains messianic prophesies fulfilled in Christ on the cross; yet it is equally clear that Psalm 22:1 is an expression of David’s heart during a particularly distressful moment in his life. Now, I say all this to inform you that there is some debate concerning the interpretation of the Psalter. I also say this so that you know that when I preach through the Psalter I initially consider the historical aspect of each psalm, how that psalm relates to the psalmist in the historical setting in which it was written; however, I seek to discover and relate to you the extent to which each psalm is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. For instance in our study of Psalm 1, while it contained no direct messianic claims, the “blessed” man finds no truer fulfillment than in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, in regards to Psalm 2, the question is not whether it is messianic, as the writers of the New Testament make perfectly clear that it indeed is a messianic psalm; the question is whether Psalm 2 has any historical application. In other words, to what extent is Psalm 2 messianic? Is it so messianic that it has no historical application to David other than the fact that he penned the words? Now this is a legitimate question. David was a prophet of God. Peter tells us in Acts 2:25-32 that David prophesied concerning Jesus Christ:

For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of what we all are witnesses.

Peter here clearly states that as a prophet of God, David foresaw and spoke concerning Jesus Christ; in this instance concerning the Holy One who would not be abandoned to Hades and whose flesh would not see corruption. David clearly knew this particular content of this particular psalm (Psalm16:8-11) was not about himself, but about the Holy One, who Peter identifies as Jesus Christ. Thus, as a prophet, David knowingly prophesied things concerning the Christ (the Messiah) and Christ alone. Theoretically David could have prophesied entire psalms concerning only the Christ, making no historical reference to himself. The question is whether this is true of Psalm 2. Theologians seem to be split as to whether Psalm 2 has any historical correlation to David or whether he is referring only to the coming Messiah. 

Bellermine - “This whole Psalm is a most manifest prophecy concerning the kingdom of Christ.”

Lowth - “The establishment of David upon his throne, not withstanding the opposition made to it by his enemies, is the subject of the Psalm.”

Rivet - “Nearly all the orthodox take this Psalm as simply and immediately referring to Christ, and interpret it accordingly.”

Belcher - “Introduces the covenant promises of David’s kingship in relationship to the community of the nations, with a reminder that God reigns through his king.”

Beveridge - “The whole Psalm is to be understood of Christ and of him only.”

The debate is whether the Psalm is only and directly in regards to the Messiah or whether the Psalm should be considered initially in regards to David, but finding ultimate fulfillment in the Antitype, Jesus Christ. Luther would likely prefer the former, while Calvin the latter. Plumer takes the former view and cautions, “We can explain the grammatical construction of every clause, and clearly get the whole sense without supposing that David is here a type.” Spurgeon (like Calvin) seems to prefer the second approach quoting Lowth:

David sustains in it a twofold character, literal and allegorical. If we read over the Psalm, first with an eye to the literal David, the meaning is obvious, and put beyond all dispute by the sacred history. There is now and then exaggerated, as it were on purpose to intimate, and leads us to the contemplation of a higher and more important matters concealed within. In compliance with this admonition, if we take another survey of the Psalm as relative to the person and concerns of the spiritual David, a noble series of events immediately rises to view, and the meaning becomes more evident, as well as more exalted. The coloring which may perhaps seem too bold and glaring for the king of Israel, will no longer appear so when laid upon this great Antitype.

Whether the psalmist is solely speaking of the Messiah in a prophetic sense or speaking historically in regards to his own experiences that are ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah I think is really beyond our ability to discern. I would typically tend to side with Calvin, Spurgeon, and others that there is some historical element here. Yet I have a difficult time placing Psalm 2 within a historical context. As Plumer notes, “It would be simply profane to apply to David some of the phrases here used.” Regardless of one’s position of the historicity of Psalm 2 concerning David, there is no debate concerning the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Psalm 2 is a messianic psalm pointing to and finding fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Thus, our study of Psalm 2 today will be in respect to Jesus Christ.