If your child, or spouse, a family member or loved one had been poisoned and you had the antidote, would you hesitate to give it to them? Would you do anything you could to make sure they took the life-saving cure?
In Psalm 2, we see something along those same lines. We see a poisoned people, although the poison is not some physical thing, but sin as shown by those who rebel against God. And we learn of the antidote that we all possess, which is a call and warning to repent and turn back to God. The question then is will we use it? Will we give this remedy to those who need it and remind ourselves of it as well?
The message of this psalm is that:
God’s King is ruling and reigning. Therefore we need to tell the world and rest in his kingship.
1. Historical Context and Fulfillment
In order to fully appreciate the significance and depth of this psalm, we need to start by taking a look at the historical context. How did the original audience understand this psalm? What about later generations and then of course what does it mean for us today? There is a rich history here in these words and this is the first psalm that really begins to open our eyes to the true depth of these poetic songs.
This psalm was originally written to celebrate the king of Israel. We don’t know exactly when it was composed and by whom but we can at least see and understand that it was for the purpose of praising God and his chosen king over his people. Some scholars believe, although it is debated and can’t be proven of course, that this was written for a coronation ceremony of one of the kings of Israel, like David or Solomon. Whatever the original specific moment for which it was written, it clearly speaks of God’s king being enthroned over God’s people and who will lead Israel in God’s decree to conquer the nations around them, all of the other nations that do not follow God.
And not only do these other nations not follow God, they are actively against him. They do not want Israel, God’s people, to rule over them with God’s law. They hate the thought of being under the Lordship of God and Israel’s king. They are, as verse 1 shows, in active rebellion against God, that is what the word “rage” means. To be in open defiance of the king They purposefully plot to overthrow his government. They stand against him and the way of righteousness that God calls his people to live by following his law. They feel that he puts them in chains, as verse 3 says. They want to burst out from his control, to run away from God, his king and his law.
But, in contrast to those wicked kings and nations, God says he has his king enthroned on Zion, which was another name for Jerusalem, the center of Israel’s worship. All of these wicked nations think they can overthrow God’s king, come out from under his rule, but God merely laughs at them. In fact, he sets his anger upon these rebellious nations and will pour out his wrath on them through his anointed king and his armies. The king of Israel will, as verses 8 and 9 say, destroy all of these wicked people; he will break them, shatter them like a clay pot and they will be his possession forever.
This psalm acted as a celebration of the king of Israel but also as a warning to all who would try to come out from under the rule of God’s king. They must serve the Lord, verse 11. They must kiss the son, verse 12, which is a picture of submitting to the king, God’s special son, or else they will be quickly destroyed in the wrath of God through his king and his armies.
And just as Psalm 1 started with telling us how to have a blessed, joyful life, Psalm 2 ends with that idea. If you want to be blessed, don’t rebel against the king but instead take refuge in him. Follow him as God’s anointed and you will find safety, security, peace, rest and blessing.
All of that is what was originally pictured through this psalm. And the people would celebrate the king and worship God through this psalm and expectantly hope in him to conquer their enemies and bring peace and justice to the world through his king. But what happened in Israel? Did they follow God steadfastly and did the kings of Israel act as his anointed ones and bring peace to the world? No, they became like the nations around them. Instead of subduing the wicked rebellion against God, they took part in it! They became like the nations that raged against God and sought to come out from under his rule. So, instead of turning his wrath and anger against the other nations, God turned it on his own people for their sin of unfaithfulness to him. Instead of wiping out the nations around them, Israel was conquered by them and the people of God were sent into exile; they became slaves in foreign lands. The kings of Israel, seated in Jerusalem were no more. The dynasty was shattered.
So what then happened to this psalm? It was obviously not erased from the Hebrew scriptures. The people didn’t look at it and say, “well that’s useless now.” Instead they realized this was pointing to something far deeper than they originally imagined. The kings of Israel did not save them so there must be something and someone far greater that God has planned. Those who were still faithful clung to the promises of God that he would enthrone his king, a son of David, on the throne forever, even if that all but seemed impossible. And this psalm took on new significance as people began to realize it pointed to a king unlike anyone that had come before, to a greater king, to one that could truly and finally bring this peace, the promised Messiah.
Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that the psalm changed meaning; when God speaks, he knows the meaning he is giving the words when he inspired them to be written down. But over time what happened was that people finally began to see and understand the meaning behind the original words when all they had put their hope in failed. When the kingdom of Israel was gone, when the king was deported to Babylon, when Jerusalem was destroyed, when the Davidic line of kings had failed, the word of God was still there. And God revealed much more clearly that he was up to something far greater. And this psalm brought expectant hope of the coming messiah, the true and lasting king who would make all things right and bring God’s peace forever.
Today, we are blessed to have the benefit of hindsight. We can look back on thousands of years of history, development, understanding and most importantly, a completed Bible to see this expectant hope develop and what God was truly saying through Psalm 2. I think of the disciples during Jesus’ ministry. They rightly believed that Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, the king. And when they asked him if he would be restoring the kingdom to Israel, I have no doubt that they had Psalm 2 in their minds. When the people tried to make him king on several different occasions, I bet they were thinking, “now is the time for this psalm to be fulfilled. The nations are about to receive God’s wrath; get ready!”
But that is not what happened, was it? We do know that this psalm was in fact pointing to Jesus Christ. The New Testament quotes it in several places to make that point, like in the books of Acts and Hebrews. But rather than the Messiah setting up his throne in Jerusalem, Jesus was killed, crucified by those who raged against the rule of God over their lives. It appeared that instead of conquering them, he was conquered by them. And again, God’s people had to question that maybe they had it wrong. Maybe, like the kings of Israel in generations past, they were wrong about Jesus being the Messiah, the fulfillment of this psalm? Or maybe it has even more depth to it still.
As we follow the storyline of Scripture through to its conclusion in the book of Revelation, we can see the full depth of meaning to this psalm and God’s plan for his king. God anointed his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the king; he gave him all authority in heaven and on earth, as Jesus said in Matthew 28, but instead of it being an earthly kingdom only, he is ruling and reigning from heaven until he makes his enemies a footstool for his feet. Until that day that he comes back and fully fulfills this psalm in his power and might and wrath. Unbeknownst to generations of readers of this psalm, it is fulfilled in steps. Jesus came and He is the king, yes. He died and was resurrected and went back to heaven where He is now on his throne, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven as Lord over all. And he is advancing his kingdom on earth, not through an earthly government or kingship, but through his people before he consummates it through his wrath later.
Someday, at the second coming of Christ, this will be totally and frighteningly fulfilled. God will pour out his wrath on all those who did not believe. And it is easy to say that doesn’t sound fair. Why so much anger and rage simply for not believing something. That sounds too harsh. Well the Bible makes it very clear that there is no one that simply doesn’t know about God; or feels neutral about him. All of us, from birth, are rebel sinners trying to cast off the bonds of God. We want to be in our slavery to sin, we want to come out from under God’s rule as the king of the universe. Whether we can express that or not it is our nature, sin has infected us down to the very fabric of our essence, it is at the core of who we are naturally. Verses 1-3 do not just describe really wicked people or ancient kings and bygone nations but every single unbeliever of all time. Sin makes all of us rage against God from the moment of conception.
And God has said that someday his King will return and, in his full, unbridled wrath, and fury, he will eternally shatter all those who rebelled against him, anyone who refused to submit to him, everyone who defiantly stood against him as ejected him as their God would not worship him.
We can’t downplay the fact that this psalm paints a terrifying picture of what is to come.
2. We Need to Tell the World
And since we know that, we understand what is being said here, we need to tell the world. We need to be the heralds of this warning, as verse 10 says. If this is true, if we believe this is what is coming then we have an obligation to tell people. We have an eternally important message to share with our friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, everyone! They need to be warned of what is coming upon them if they don’t change course. Their life is a ship about to be dashed upon the rocks and we are called to act as a lighthouse to warn them of their impending destruction. We have the antidote to their poison!
The wrath of God is coming on all who do not submit to him! We cannot be silent. People need to hear this! They need to know about God’s king and the necessity of coming under his lordship or else we are headed for eternal destruction. They need to know that he is coming someday and it will be too late to choose allegiance to him then!
They need to hear that this king has come once before. That the Son of God, the King and creator of the universe, stepped into his creation. And instead of turning God’s wrath on the nations then, it was poured out on him. The Son, the Anointed one, is going to come back someday in his wrath and fury. But when he came before it was to take that same wrath on himself. To stand in the place of rebel sinners, to take on the penalty for those who rage against him and seek to break his bonds from off their lives. He took their sin and rebellion on himself to free them from the wrath to come. And we need to call everyone to take hold of that sacrifice, that eternal, immeasurable gift, through faith. To have their sins wiped clean, never to be held against them, simply by coming to the king in faith and submitting to him as their Lord and Savior.
We need to tell people that there are two options for God’s wrath: either we take it on ourselves for all eternity when Christ returns, or it was placed on Christ on our behalf. They need to be warned of what is to come and they need to be told the good news of the gospel that they don’t need to suffer his eternal wrath if they would only come to him by faith. The world needs to hear about Christ the King. How will they hear if we don’t tell them?
3. Rest in His Kingship
And we need to tell them, and we need to tell ourselves, that we can rest in his kingship. That final phrase at the end of verse 12 is really beautiful. The entire psalm is this terrifying warning of the wrath that is coming through God’s son, the king. And if you don’t submit to him you will soon be destroyed; his wrath is quickly kindled against all who do not follow him.
But, if we do come under his kingship, if he is our Lord, everything changes. Instead of wrath, we have blessing. Instead of his anger being quickly kindled, we find him to be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, as another psalm tells us. If we follow the way of life he has called us to, if we heed the warnings of his wrath to come on all who reject him, if we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our rescuer from our sin, as our refuge from eternal death, then we are blessed. We are turned from death to life and given the joy of God in our hearts!
Even when the world around us is collapsing, even as the nations rage and go from bad to worse in their attempts to deny God and throw his rule off their lives, even when it is hard to believe that God’s King is ruling and reigning right now in heaven, we can rest and have joy and peace in his kingship. We can know that we are safe from the wrath to come because God’s anointed, Jesus Christ, has already taken our place. We can know that God sits in the heavens and laughs. He is not concerned with the state of the world, as if it were out of his hands, and he wants us to take refuge in him, to find him to be a safe place, someone we can trust with the direction of our lives and the world.
We can be blessed and rest in him. We don’t need to fret; we don’t need to worry. God’s king is on his throne. He is ruling and reigning right now. We may not be able to see it, but he has told us it’s the truth. He has revealed what is happening now and what will happen in the future through his word. It may be hard to rust him as our eyes tell us this world is spinning out of control. But calls us to trust him. The nations may rage against him, but they can’t cause one step to go out of order in his plan. And he tells us to find refuge in him. We need to tell the world that. We need to tell ourselves that. We need to be constantly reminded of that peace bringing truth.
I love how the 17th century Puritan Thomas Watson put it when he wrote, “There is great comfort to those who are the subjects of the King of heaven. He puts forth all his royal power for their comfort.”
The king of heaven has come and given us of himself completely. He has given us himself. He has saved us from the wrath to come. He has promised us and proven to us that he will freely give us all things for our good. We can rest in him; he is a refuge for us. And no matter what is happening in the world around us, in him we will find a joyful, blessed life forever.