David Calls Upon the Nations to Cease Their Rebellion
Thus far in our study of this psalm we have seen how David contemplated the rebellion of the nations against the LORD and His Messiah (vss. 1-3), then how he described the LORD Himself speaking of His Messiah (vss. 4-6), and then how he began to relate the words of God the Son Himself as He declared the decree of the Father concerning His role as our Messiah (vs. 7 and vss. 8-9). In this post, we shall begin to examine David’s concluding words, in which he challenges those who have rebelled against the rule of the LORD and of His Messiah to repent.
Introduction: One of the more memorable of Solomon’s proverbs tells us that:
NKJ Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
There is a strong connection, then, between the fear of the LORD and wisdom, a connection that is made by David* in this psalm as well. Although he does not state that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, apparently unconcerned in this psalm with which comes first, he nevertheless sees them as connected, assuming that we cannot have one without the other. This connection will become evident as we examine four of the commands that the Prophet David issued to those who have rebelled against the LORD.
NKJ Psalm 2:10a Now therefore [וְ֭עַתָּה, and now or so now], be wise [שׂכַל, NASB = show discernment], O kings [מֶלֶךְ];
The “kings” David speaks of here are, of course, the same kings he had mentioned in the opening lines of this psalm:
NKJ Psalm 2:1-3 Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings [מֶלֶךְ] of the earth set themselves, And the rulers [רָזַן] take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.”
These kings and rulers, who are representative of the nations and people they rule, have sought to rebel against the rule of the LORD, as they seek to do right up to our own day. But the LORD foretold the coming of the Messiah, who was to be His own Son, and He decreed His reign when He said:
NKJ Psalm 2:6 Yet I have set My King [מֶלֶךְ] On My holy hill of Zion.
Then the LORD declared that the Messiah would judge the nations and their rulers. Remember that we have seen, in the last couple of post on this psalm, how the Messiah, who is the Son of God, declared the decree of God the Father in this regard:
NKJ Psalm 2:7-9 I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
It is because such judgment is coming that David addresses the kings of the earth and says, “Now therefore, be wise.” And by this he meant not just that they understand what will happen to them, but that they do the right thing in light of this understanding. You see, wisdom is more than knowledge, it is the ability to know what to do with – or what to do in light of – the knowledge one has. Wisdom presupposes knowledge. Thus, one can have knowledge without wisdom, but one cannot have wisdom without knowledge. In this case, as a prophet of God, David has given the nations and their kings the knowledge they need, and now he calls upon them to act wisely given what they know. In fact, he starts to point them in the right direction with his next command.
NKJ Psalm 2:10b Be instructed [יָסַר, or warned, as in ESV], you judges [Qal Part. > שָׁפַט, ESV = rulers] of the earth [אֶרֶץ].
Now, the Hebrew verb translated be instructed here in the New King James Version may also be translated as be warned, as it is in the ESV. In this context, as I understand it, David means something like be instructed concerning danger, in this case the danger of the coming judgment. He has already spoken of this judgment in the preceding context, as we have seen, but he will speak about this judgment again in verse 12, where he will issue yet another command that we will look at more closely next week. For now we will just look ahead for a moment in order to see the danger of judgment that he has in mind:
NKJ Psalm 2:12a Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little.
We can see, then, why the ESV translates the last part of verse 10 as “be warned, O rulers of the earth.” David demands that the nations and their rulers to be wise enough to take his prophecy seriously and to see it as a warning. And, having been warned, he demands that they respond in a wise way, taking the proper actions and adopting the proper attitudes, about which he begins to speak in the next verse.
NKJ Psalm 2:11a Serve [עבַד, NASB = worship] the LORD with fear [יִרְאָה, LXX= φόβος, NASB = reverence],
Those of you with an NASB will notice that the first part of this verse says, “Worship the LORD with reverence.” This is because the Hebrew words may be understood in different ways. For example, the word translated serve in the New King James Version – as well as in the Christian Standard Bible, the ESV, and the NIV – may also sometimes be rendered as worship. In my opinion, the meaning to serve fits a bit better here, but I’m not sure it makes a significant difference in the end, since faithfully serving God entails worshiping Him, and faithfully worshiping God entails serving Him.
As for the Hebrew word translated as reverence in the NASB and as reverential awe in the Christian Standard Bible, it must be admitted that the word typically refers to fear. Thus I see no reason not to translate it that way here, but I do understand why some versions prefer not to do so. After all, at first it is hard to believe that God really wants those who trust in Him and obey Him to do so while constantly being afraid of Him. After all, doesn’t God want us to have assurance of His love? And doesn’t the Apostle John say that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18)?
Yet, I would point out that being afraid of what God can do is not the same thing as being afraid that He will do it. One can maintain a healthy fear of God’s power and ability to destroy without fearing that He will exercise that power in judgment upon him. Remember, for example, the words of our Lord Jesus when He said:
NKJ Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
These words were said to the Twelve as Jesus was sending them out to preach the Gospel to the people of Israel. He didn’t want them to fear what men could do to them, but rather to fear what God could do to them. Such a healthy fear of God’s power would help them to resist the fear of men. In the same way, when David admonishes the nations and their rulers to “serve the LORD with Fear,” he intends that they remember that God always has the power to destroy them if they do not sincerely serve Him or if they turn back from serving Him and embrace their former rebellion against Him.
Now, I should point out that I do believe that such a healthy fear of God will certainly bring with it a reverential awe of Him – to use the language of the Christian Standard Bible – but I am not sure that there will be any reverential awe without such a healthy fear. Or, if there is a reverential awe of God, I seriously doubt it will last long without a healthy fear of Him and of His infinite power. At any rate, I think David desired that the nations and their rulers actually possess a fear of God.
However, in spite of his desire that they maintain such a healthy fear, David does not want them to view serving God as a misery but rather as a joy, as he goes on to emphasize.
NKJ Psalm 2:11b And rejoice [גִּיל] with trembling [רְעָדָה, LXX = τρόμος].
So, it is possible for joy and fear to coexist, isn’t it? Consider in this regard the experience of the women who came to the empty tomb of Jesus:
NKJ Matthew 28:1-8 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” 8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear [φόβος] and great joy [χαρά], and ran to bring His disciples word.
Notice that these women possessed what I have referred to as a healthy fear, despite the fact that the angel of the Lord admonished them not to be afraid. They clearly were no longer afraid that he might harm them, but they nonetheless departed with fear even after he had left them. We must view them, then, as having healthy and holy fear of the power of God that had been displayed in this encounter. But Matthew tells us that they also had “great joy.”
As I understand the text of Psalm 2, this is the kind of thing that David intended when he said to the nations and their rulers, “Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling” (italics mine). In fact, I think it is what the Apostle Paul also had in mind when he admonished the Philippian believers to “work out” their salvation:
NKJ Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear [φόβος] and trembling [τρόμος]; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
But, of course, we know that Paul did not see such “fear and trembling” as running counter to assurance of God’s love and grace toward them, for he had already told them that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). Nor did Paul see such “fear and trembling” as counter to joy in the Christian life, for he goes on to tell them “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).
Conclusion: So, we have seen that both the Prophet David and the Apostle Paul understood the idea of serving God with fear and trembling as coinciding with, rather than counter to, assurance and joy in one’s relationship with Him. Those of us who have trusted in Him rightly fear His awesome power, but we do not fear that He will exercise it in judgment upon us. Instead, we are confident that He will exercise His power for us rather than against us. David desires that all the nations come to know this as they repent of their rebellion against God and submit to His sovereign rule, looking to Him for salvation. I pray that each reader of this post will go away with such a holy mixture of fear and assurance, trembling and joy.
*Remember that David was a prophet (Acts 2:29-30) and that he wrote this psalm (Acts 4:25).