In a previous post we saw how David contemplated the rebellion of the nations against the LORD and His Messiah. As we continue our examination of Psalm 2 in this post, we will see how he described the LORD Himself speaking of His Messiah. This means that he is referring to the words of God the Father regarding God the Son, whom we know to be the Messiah.
Psalm 2:4-6 God the Father Speaks Concerning the Nations
Although there are many things about God which are a mystery to us, one of the things that we know with certainty is that God is a spirit. Our Lord Jesus makes this very clear. He tells us that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). But we also know with certainty that a spirit does not have a body, because our Lord Jesus makes this clear as well. Remember in this regard what He said in one of His post-resurrection encounters with His disciples:
NKJ Luke 24:36-39 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
A spirit, then, does not have a physical body and does not, therefore, do the things a physical body does. So, whenever we read about God as having an “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 4:34), for example, or “eyes” that “are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3), we know we are dealing with figurative language. Specifically, we are dealing with anthropomorphism, which is simply a figure of speech wherein a characteristic of humans is used to describe God.
Scripture has quite a bit of anthropomorphic language in it, especially in poetic passages. To cite just one more example, one which is especially pertinent to our study of this text, Scripture sometimes speaks of God as sitting on a throne, such as when David referred to the sovereign rule of God in Psalm 29:
NKJ Psalm 29:10 The LORD sat [יָשַׁב] enthroned at the Flood, And the LORD sits [יָשַׁב] as King forever.
This statement refers to the idea that only a king has the right to sit on a throne and that, therefore, only God sits as the true King of the universe. In fact, this is the way we should understand David’s statement here in Psalm 2.
NKJ Psalm 2:4 He who sits [יָשַׁב] in the heavens shall laugh [שָׂחַק, referring to a mocking laughter]; The Lord [אֲ֜דֹנָ֗י] shall hold them in derision [לָעַג, NASB = “scoffs at them”].
As A Translator’s Handbook o the Book of Psalms correctly notes, “It should be made clear that [the word] sits means to reign, or rule, as king; it should not just indicate that the Lord is sitting in heaven rather than standing” (p. 26, Logos).
In fact, both the Christian Standard Bible and the NIV have chosen to translate the first part of this verse as “the One enthroned in heaven laughs” (italics mine). This reflects the common understanding that David is referring to God as a king who is reigning in the heavens, high above all those who seek to reign on this earth and who dare to rebel against Him (vss. 1-3). And David further states that God is neither afraid nor dismayed by the rage and plotting of the nations and their leaders. Indeed, He simply laughs at them and mocks their pitiful attempts to throw off His rule.
This is a response of God to the plotting of the wicked that David describes in other psalms as well. For example, in Psalm 37 he writes:
NKJ Psalm 37:12-13 The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. 13 The Lord laughs [שָׂחַק, NET Bible = “laughs in disgust”] at him, For He sees that his day is coming.
In yet another psalm of David, written when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill David, he said:
NKJ Psalm 59:5-8 You therefore, O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel, Awake to punish all the nations; Do not be merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah 6 At evening they return, They growl like a dog, And go all around the city. 7 Indeed, they belch with their mouth; Swords are in their lips; For they say, “Who hears?” 8 But You, O LORD, shall laugh [שָׂחַק, NET Bible = “laugh in disgust”] at them; You shall have all the nations in derision.
In seeking to kill David, Saul and his men were actually siding with the wicked and with the Gentiles who rejected God. But David says that God will laugh mockingly at their feeble attempts to thwart His plans, and this is also what he says in this passage. James Montgomery Boice describes the meaning of this figurative language this way:
God does not tremble. He does not hide behind a vast celestial rampart, counting the enemy and calculating whether or not he has sufficient force to counter this new challenge to his kingdom. He does not even rise from where he is sitting. He simply “laughs” at these great imbeciles. (Psalms Vol 1, p. 24)
But God does not just laugh at them, He also speaks to them, as David tells us in the next verse.
NKJ Psalm 2:5 Then [אָז, at that time] He shall speak to them in His wrath [אַף], And distress [בָּהַל, to dismay or terrify] them in His deep displeasure [חָרוֹן, or fury, as in ESV and NASB]:
The Hebrew term translated as distress in the New King James Version may also be translated as terrify, and the word translated deep displeasure may also be translated as fury. Hence, the ESV rendering of this verse, which says:
ESV Psalm 2:5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury …. (italics mine)
Notice that the LORD is able to distress or terrify them simply by speaking to them in His anger. None of their efforts against Him cause Him the slightest trouble, but just an angry word from Him sends them into a terror. But what, exactly, are the words He speaks that cause them such distress or terror? We see some of those words recorded in the next verse.
NKJ Psalm 2:6 “Yet I [וַ֭אֲנִי, but I, ESV = “as for Me,” NASB = “but as for Me”] have set [נָסַךְ] My King [מֶלֶךְ] On My holy hill of Zion.”
Here David gives us the words of the LORD, in which He speaks empathically in the Hebrew text. In fact, we could read the verse this way, “Yet I Myself have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.” This is in direct response to the kings mentioned earlier in the psalm:
NKJ Psalm 2:2 The kings [מֶלֶךְ] of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying ….
So, God’s response to the rebellious kings who have set themselves against Him is to declare to them that He has set His own king on Mount Zion. As Charles Spurgeon so ably put it:
“Yet,” says he, “despite your malice, despite your tumultuous gatherings, despite the wisdom of your counsels, despite the craft of your lawgivers, ‘yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.’” Is not that a grand exclamation! He has already done that which the enemy seeks to prevent. While they are proposing, he has disposed the matter. Jehovah’s will is done, and man’s will frets and raves in vain. God’s Anointed is appointed, and shall not be disappointed. Look back through all the ages of infidelity, hearken to the high and hard things which men have spoken against the Most High, listen to the rolling thunder of earth’s volleys against the Majesty of heaven, and then think that God is saying all the while, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Treasury of David, e-Sword)
Now, if this has an initial reference to King David, then God is saying that, despite the rebellion of the nations, and even of His own people who sided with King Saul against David, He has still set His own king on Mount Zion.
However, as we saw in our previous study of this text, even if there is an initial reference to David here, this is ultimately a Messianic prophecy, and the king that the LORD is speaking about is our Lord Jesus Christ. Next week, in our examination of the following verse, we will see how David tells us what God the Son, our Lord Jesus, says in relation to His being set as the King in Zion, and we will see that He states His Father’s decree establishing Him as King. This means that these words recorded in verse 6 are also the words of God the Father concerning His Son. His response to the rebellion of the nations is to speak to them in His wrath. But notice that what He says is only a threat to those who continue in their rebellion. As we shall see in our further study of this psalm, the LORD is giving this prophecy not only as a warning concerning His judgment on those who rebel against His rule, but also as an opportunity for them to repent.
But before we end our study of this text, we need to remember again what we learned in our previous study ov verses 1-3, namely that the Apostles saw the opening verse of this psalm as having been fulfilled – or at least as having begun to be fulfilled – in the events surrounding the death of our Lord Jesus. If this is the case, then how should we understand this prophecy as having been fulfilled – or at least as having begun to be fulfilled – in Jesus? When did the LORD’s statement that “I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion” come to pass? As I see it, this was fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus. Peter spoke of this as Jesus’ exaltation in his preaching at Pentecost:
NKJ Acts 2:33-36 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” (Ps. 110:1) 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. [Italics mine.]
Later, in his first epistle, Peter referred to Jesus as the One “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).
To take just one more example, the author of Hebrews admonishes us to keep “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). And then in the same passage he goes on to write:
NKJ Hebrews 12:18-24 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
Thus our Lord Jesus reigns from the heavenly Mount Zion, in the heavenly Jerusalem, of which all who believe are citizens. As Paul says to the Philippian believers, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
Conclusion: Thus we have finished our study of this passage, but before we leave it, perhaps a couple of points of application are in order.
First, as we also saw in our study of verses 1-3, we should remember that God is sovereign, that He is working out His own good plan, and that nothing or no one can stop Him. This is one clear lesson of Psalm 2, which demonstrates that God will accomplish His plan despite the rebellion of the nations against His rule. Indeed, He even works in such a manner that their efforts against Him actually end up bringing about His will. Peter highlighted this fact quite clearly when he confronted the Jews for their part in Jesus’ death:
NKJ Acts 2:22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know– 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death ….
So, even in their rebellion against God and against His Messiah, the people of Israel ended up doing precisely what God had determined all along. Remember also in this regard what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians:
NKJ Romans 8:28-31 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
So, we must never forget that, no matter how bad things may seem to us, no matter how much it may look like the forces of evil are winning, God is still working out His plan of redemption for His glory and for our good. Just as those who rebelled against God and against His Messiah could not stop Him from bringing about His plan and setting His King on the heavenly Mount Zion, where He reigns as Lord of all, even so nothing can stop Him from bringing about His plans for us.
Second, when the culture around us rages against our Lord’s rule, we must not let their words and actions drown out the word of our Lord so that we become discouraged. This is one reason why the Holy Spirit gave this psalm to the people of Israel through the prophet David. They were given a promise from the LORD that would sustain the faithful amidst the raging of the nations against His rule and against His people. In the same way, we have been given many more gracious promises from the LORD, such as those we just read a few moments ago from Romans. Indeed, in that same passage, Paul goes on to write:
NKJ Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We must cherish such promises in our hearts as we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:13-14).
As the fulfillment of God’s promise in Psalm 2 reminds us, He always keeps His promises. He kept His promises concerning our Lord Jesus’ first coming, and He will keep His promises concerning His second coming as well, when we will be resurrected to live with Him forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth. As Paul says, we have been given the “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Tit. 1:2).