For the Love of God, Volume 2/August 4
From Gospel Translations
Judges 18; Acts 22; Jeremiah 32; Psalms 1—2
AT ONE LEVEL, PSALM 2 CAN BE understood entirely within the framework of the life of a Davidic king—even of David himself. He has conquered the surrounding nations. If they rebel, they are plotting together “against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (2:2), i.e., his “messiah,” an expression that can refer to any anointed king of Israel, or to the ultimate Messiah. If they try to throw off the fetters of their obligations to Israel (2:3), they must reckon with God: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (2:4). He rebukes them in his anger, for he is the One who has installed his King on Zion (2:5-6).
Now the king himself speaks. He testifies to this same installation, i.e., to his own installation as king, using forms of speech common in the ancient Near East. At the king’s installation, he becomes the “son” of the god who extends primary sovereignty over that people. Yahweh himself uses that language: the king of Israel becomes God’s “son” at his installation, committed to seeking his “Father’s” glory and good, reflecting his character and will (2:7). God is so much in control of all nations that the Davidic king need only ask, and God will give him absolute sovereignty over the nations (2:8-9). The kings ought therefore to be wise, and warned (2:10). “Serve the LORD with fear. . . . Kiss the Son [i.e., the Davidic king], lest he be angry” (2:11-12).
But there are at least two elements that warn us against thinking the psalm’s meaning is exhausted in one of the ancient Davidic monarchs. First, early in the life of the Davidic dynasty David became a type or model of the ultimate “messiah” from this line, the ultimate “David.” One can easily find explicit references to this figure centuries later (e.g., Isa. 9; Ezek. 34). Typological reasoning might run like this: if the historical King David was God’s agent to rule over the nations that surrounded him, how much more will great David’s greater Son, the Davidic king par excellence, rule over the nations? Second, there are several hints in the psalm that suggest something more than an early Davidic king. He subdues the “kings of the earth” (2:2), which sounds pretty comprehensive (though it could mean “the kings of the land”); this “Son” is promised “the nations” and “the ends of the earth” as his possession—a lot harder to dismiss. The final blessing (2:12) sounds vaguely pompous for anyone other than the ultimate Messiah. Each of these expressions can be “explained” (or “explained away”): they might, for instance, be examples of hyperbolic language. But taken together, they do not so much point away from the historic David as point beyond him. Reflect on Acts 4:23-30.