When the apostles experienced persecution in Acts 4, they looked to Psalms 2 for comfort. They recognized that the ultimate example of what they were experiencing was the crucifixion of God’s Anointed—the nations raging against the rule of God by killing his Son, Jesus Christ.
And when we face the kind of opposition and conflict that Psalm 2 predicts, that should give us comfort as well. You are not alone. This conflict you are experiencing, this pressure to give in to a wicked image of the good life, this persecution against you, it’s not the first time it has happened. In fact, this grand narrative of conflict is what Jesus himself was part of when Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel nailed him to the cross.
But not only is the Messiah the ultimate, quintessential example of this story of conflict between the wicked and the righteous, he is the solution to the whole thing. We see this in how Psalm 2 portrays God and his response to the imagination of the wicked.
Look at the image Psalm 2:4 paints of God: It says, “He who sits in the heavens.” Now, that word “sits” in the ESV is a bit misleading. The Hebrew word is actually much more metaphorical than just plain “sits.” Remember, the psalms use poetry to help to form our inner image of reality, and that’s what Psalm 2 is continuing to do. Let me show you a couple of more places in the psalms that use this very same Hebrew word to see if you can see the image it is meant to portray.
Psalm 9:7 – But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.
Psalm 29:10 – The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
What word do the translators supply to give the fuller sense of this Hebrew word? “enthroned” That’s the sense of this word. And that’s clear in Psalm 9 where the text continues, “he has established his throne for justice.” And Psalm 29, “the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” This is royal imagery. This is why the NIV translates Psalm 2:4, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs…” That’s the image of God Psalm 2 is beginning to paint, and that’s clear a few verses down where verse 6 refers to him as King.
And if you pay attention, you’ll find that this is another fundamental image that develops throughout the five Books of Psalms. The Psalms use other images of God to shape our conception of him, but the overwhelmingly dominant image is of God as King. You’ll find him called king throughout the psalms, you’ll find references to his throne in heaven like we see here in 2:4, and you’ll find other images like scepter, kingdom, dominion, reign, rule. Even a title like “judge” connoted in the ancient near east the idea of a ruler, like in the Book of Judges, where judges were champion warrior rulers of the people.
There are even other royal metaphors in the psalms that we today might not recognize as such. Let me show you one of them in a verse that uses the same Hebrew word for “enthroned” as 2:4 does. Look at the last phrase in Psalm 80:1:
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
So there again is that image of God being enthroned, but what image does the verse open with? Shepherd of Israel. When we think of a shepherd today, like in Psalm 23, we typically think of cuddly little sheep and sitting by the stream in a beautiful pastoral setting. But in the ancient near east, the image of a Shepherd was also a royal image. To call God the “Shepherd of Israel” is to imagine him as King of Israel.
You see, from beginning to end of the Psalter, these songs lead us to muse on God as King. And that’s the image of God Psalm 2 is portraying: God is King. And how does this king respond to the rage of the nations? How does he respond to their vain imagination of a good life apart from his rule? How does he respond when the kings of the earth set themselves against him and his Anointed one, and burst what they consider the bonds of his rule and cast away what they imagine to be the cords of his reign?
He laughs. But his laughter is not at all humorous. It very quickly turns to derision, verse 4. It very quickly turns to wrath and fury. He will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury, verse 5.
You break the “bonds” of my rule? I will break you, verse 9, with a rod of iron and dash you in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
You set yourself against my Anointed one? You reject him and arrest him and accuse him falsely and strip him and beat him and mock his rule with a crown of thorns? You nail my Anointed one to a shameful cross? As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill, verse 6.
You see, those wicked rulers thought they were bringing an end to the rule of God’s Anointed when they crucified him, they thought they were foiling God’s plan, but the apostles knew better. In Acts 4, after they quoted the first two verses of Psalm 2, they say with confidence, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
You think you’ve thrown off God’s rule? You’ve actually done the exact thing that established his right to rule. You’ve actually prepared the way for God to set him as King on Zion.
And Psalm 2 predicted this in verse 7: “I will tell of the degree: the Lord said to me, “You are my Son”—Who is speaking in this verse? This is the King that God set on Zion, this is the Lord’s Anointed. And when he says that the Lord said to him, “You are my Son,” he is quoting God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. God had promised David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. . . . I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” That’s what Psalm 2 is quoting here. It’s quoting the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7.
So who is this offspring of David, and when is this fulfilled? Keep reading: “today I have begotten you.” In other words, the Lord is saying to his Anointed, today I have established you as my Son, the offspring of David whose throne of his kingdom I will establish forever.” When does that take place?
Well we don’t have to wonder, because the apostle Peter tells us in Acts 13 when he quotes this verse and says, “this he has fulfilled by raising Jesus.” In other words, the death and resurrection of Jesus is what established his right to rule as David’s descendent whose kingdom will be forever.
You wicked people think you’re bursting the bonds of my rule by killing my Anointed? God says. No, that’s exactly what will establish his rule, and he shall reign forever as King. I will give all of your kingdoms to him as his heritage and possession, and if you resist him, he will break you with a rod of iron.