Psalm 2 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Proper, God-exalting feelings (affections, emotions) find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. When I’ve preached from the Psalms in the past, and as I preach my eleventh sermon from the Psalms, I pray that is the one reality, the one truth you take away from these sermons. To be human is to have emotions. That is a central mark of being made in the image of God. We feel a wide array of emotions. Some of you experience emotions more strongly than others, but you all experience them in a response to what you think, say and do.
The glorious beauty of the Psalms, is that God gave us 150 songs that help us root the surge of our emotions in the bedrock of God’s truth. Psalm 2 has emotional language in it. Did you catch those words when the passage was being read? What is the emotional language we see? Rage. Laughter. Derision. Fury. Fear. Rejoicing. Trembling. Different kinds of emotions fill the Psalms. These are songs after all, and they are meant to help us feel rightly. And right emotions are anchored in right thinking. Right thinking is rooted in the bedrock of God’s Word.
So that’s my aim with each of these Psalms. It shapes the way I write these sermons. I pray and hope and long for you to have proper, God-exalting feelings that are rooted in powerful God-revealed truths. When your thinking is rooted in truth and your feelings overflow in response to that truth, God is seen more clearly and more gloriously. That is why the Psalms are here.
We’re looking at Psalm 2 now. Back in 2018 I preached on Psalm 1 and gave an an overview of the entire psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 can been seen as the gateway into the rest of the Psalms. What you see in these two Psalms lays the groundwork for the other 148 songs. Psalm 1 talks about God’s people delighting in his law, whereas Psalm 2 talks about God’s enemies despising the law. We see examples in these two chapters of the righteous and the wicked and what emotions they have as the righteous and the wicked. God’s people delight in his law. God’s enemies rebel against it.
In this first section of five sections that make up the Psalms, chapters 1-41 are nearly all written by David, and they are an example of what Psalm 1 declares. They are prayers from David in times of distress, in which he pours out his heart to God, and writes statements of the confidence he has in God. His distress many times comes at the hands of those doing evil, which you can see in Psalm 3, the very next chapter.
Psalm 2 is split up into four sections, each containing three verses. We are going to work our way through each section, and see what is happening through the perspective of David’s time and place in history. We aren’t stopping there because Scripture doesn’t stop there. We are going to peel through the layers and find more glory to see.
THE REBELLIOUS NATION’S PERSPECTIVE (1-3)
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”
Let’s first ask the question of who is the Lord’s Anointed and who is writing this. That answer can be found in Acts 4 which identifies David as the author.
David is the Lord’s Anointed, whom God had chosen to be Israel’s king. The word anointed means messiah in Hebrew. God had chosen to show his salvation and his steadfast love through his anointed king, David. All the way back to Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that through his lineage, all the the families of the earth will be blessed. And in 2 Samuel 7, when God establishes his covenant with David, God told David that after he died, he would be a father to his son (Solomon). He would discipline him when he sins, he would show steadfast love to him, and that David’s kingdom and throne would be established forever.
From Genesis 2, through 2 Samuel 7, and landing here in Psalm 2, we see that God had set it up so that the nations would receive blessing through Abraham and his descendants. God established David as king, and said through his family succession, God’s fame and glory would be displayed.
The neighboring nations, kings, rulers and peoples do not see it that way though. What God wanted to offer them as blessing, they saw as bonds. What should have been a glorious comfort to the nations, they saw as cords that would constrain them from doing what they wanted. These surrounding nations did not want to submit to David’s rule as king (taxes, limitations, commands). They did not want to be submit to David’s kingdom and to his God. They wanted to breakaway from it.
These rebellious people have set themselves not only against David, but infinitely more important they have set themselves against God. They have taken a stand. They have drawn a line in the sand saying, “We will not submit to the Lord and his Anointed.” For them to rebel against David was the same as rebelling against God. They were were cutting themselves off from the hope of knowing who the true God was, because they desired to be their own gods. What was offered as blessing and hope was seen as constraint and slavery. They are now making plans for how they will escape from David’s rule.
THE HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE (4-6)
The emotions of the ungodly nations are bubbling over in wrath and fury against God and his anointed. What will the response of God be? Worry? Fear? Will God’s plans be thwarted? Will the plotting and scheming and planning of the wicked overthrow the covenant God setup with Abraham and David?
No. First God laughs. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; The Lord holds them in derision.” God is not threatened by rebellious nations anymore than an adult man is threatened by a 4 year old boy’s challenge to an arm wrestling contest. And not only does God laugh but he also holds them in derision, which means to mock and make fun of. It is like the adult telling the 4 year old, “You really think you’re going to beat me in an arm wrestling contest with that toothpick you have attached to your shoulder.” You would do your soul well to spend some time considering the fact that God laughs at the plans of the wicked and makes a mockery of them from his throne in the heavens. Press that reality up against the daily news of what evils are going on in our country and across the world.
I went to Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake rocked that country, killing thousands. I spent a week their doing relief efforts, and got to know one of our interpreters well. We’ve stayed in touch these past 12 years, and recently he’s been messaging me, telling me about the gangs that have overthrown the government, setting the country in a tailspin. Villages are being overrun. People are being killed. Food and water are scarce. Things are dark and bleak for him and his mom and sister. He’s just trying to figure out how to squeak out enough money to keep the three of them alive.
I hear him describe how these violent, wicked men are causing pain to so many, and I think of Psalm 2. God laughs at their puny, weak rebellions. He holds them in mockery and one day, they will stand before a God full of furry and wrath stored up for them because of their wickedness, should they never humble themselves before God and repent.
God’s laugh is a wrathful, furious one, directed at the rebellious nations. Verse 5 says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.” The nations that furiously plot against God’s anointed will be terrified at the display of God’s wrath and fury. Their spitball attempts at angry rebellion will be met by the full hurricane force of God’s judgement. (Kids, if you are drawing pictures of this sermon, you can draw someone trying to shoot a spitball at a hurricane to stop it.)
God declares to them in verse 6, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God has set his king on Zion. If you read the Psalms you will see the word Zion used often. Zion refers to the Canaanite city built on Mount Moriah that David conquered, which became known as Jerusalem. Zion was the word used to describe the area on the mount where the temple stood. God’s dwelling place. Zion is referred to as a fortress (2 Sam. 5:7), where the Lord sits enthroned (Psalm 9:11). It is the place where salvation for all Israel comes from (Psalm 14:7). It is beautiful in elevation above everything around it, and the joy of all the earth. The place were the perfection of beauty comes from as God shines forth out of it (Psalm 48:2).
God has set apart David as his king, to show forth his power and glory through his dwelling place of Zion.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE LORD TO HIS SON (7-9)
We have seen how the rebellious nations view God in verses 1-3. Then we saw how God viewed these rebellious nations. Now we see how David views the Lord and the Lord views him in return. We see the relationship between the Lord and the king of Israel.
Look at verse 7. “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son.’” By David recounting this decree, he may be referring back to his coronation- the time when he became king. The relationship between God and David is not merely the same as any other king of any other nation at the time. This is a warm, family type description. David holds a certain status before God as a son to a father, and God promised David that his son would enjoy this same relationship. Even further, David is representing the same type of relationship that God had with all Israel. In Psalm 80:15 and in Exodus 4:22-23 God calls all the people of Israel as his son. David is the representative of Israel as God’s child, for all the world to see, but all Israel is considered to be the child of God. At David’s coronation he is begotten. He became the leading, visible leader of God’s fatherly relationship with his child, Israel.
Because of this special relationship, this covenant that God established, starting all the way back in Genesis 12 when it was promised to Abraham and his lineage, God reiterates his promise to David. The promise to Abraham was that through his bloodline, all the families of the earth will be blessed. God reiterates this promise to David by saying that the nations would be a possession and heritage to them. Look at verse 8. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”
Verse 9 says that if rebellious kings attempt to burst and cast away Israel’s rule, God’s king will break them with a rod of iron and shatter them into pieces like a broken pot falling the floor. What we have seen so far is that God made a covenant with Israel as his child, the king was the visible representative of this covenant, and any attempt to rebel against their rule, was a rebellion against God.
THE TWO OPTIONS (10-12)
Confronted with the perspective of earthly rebellion or heavenly submission, God’s king, his son, gives these rebels a warning. Submit to God or face the wrath of God. David warns them in verse 11 to, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Serve with fear and rejoice with trembling. These nations ought to have a fear and trembling over their wickedness and rebellion against an all-knowing, all- powerful God who can do all that he wills. The warning is that though these nations see themselves as a strong force to be reckoned with, they are nothing more than a shaky pot that can be shoved off the table by God at any moment he chooses, and smashed into a thousand pieces. That reality ought to cause fear and trembling in their souls, and move them to serve God and take delight in his mercy.
These nations are facing the potential of an expanding rule and control by David and his offspring, and it is for their good. It is through Israel that God intends to show his blessing to the nations and make the fame of his name known.
So, David is declaring in song, to the nations and peoples and kings, don’t run from God! Take refuge in him. You will be blessed, you will not be cursed. What you see as slavery will actually be your salvation. What you see as bonds will be your blessing.
Verse 12 says to these nations they should kiss the Son. That is, honor and submit to God’s chosen son, his king. For as the nations submit to David (who is acting in God’s name and under his authority), God’s son, they are submitting to God.
THE BETTER DAVID
We’ve seen that God bestowed on Israel and her kings the mission of displaying to the nations God’s glory and blessing to all those who would submit. They failed in that mission. We only have to read the very next Psalm, in chapter 3, to see how David’s enemies rose against him. We can see the repeated failures and sins of David and his sons turning from the LORD and the covenant he established with them. They failed to meditate on God’s law day and night, and root their desires and feelings in that law. Rather, they allowed sin to carry their desires away from God and became like the nations around them, instead of acting as the children of God they were called to be.
That is not where the story ends though. At the time of Psalm 2 being written, David and Israel could not fully understand the plans of God that this very Psalm points to. The story unfolds through the prophets in the Old Testament, and comes to its climax in the New Testament, which quotes Psalm 18 different times. It comes to its climax in the better and perfect David, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was descended from David’s family line, and is the Son of God who is resurrected from the dead (Romans 1:5). Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy promising a messiah who would come to save them (Acts 13:33). The messiah that conquered death by rising from the dead. Now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:5). King Jesus, who rose from the dead, whom God the Father declared to be his Son, is reigning and ruling from his heavenly throne.
The better David, Jesus Christ, came to earth as man, conquered sin through his death and resurrection, and was coronated through his resurrection as God’s established King over all the world. Where David failed, Jesus succeeded as the sinless Messiah. Salvation is offered to all nations, all peoples, all rulers if they would hope in Christ. If they would kiss the Son. If they would give honor and homage and worship to the Son. Blessed are those who would take refuge in the Son.
And at the appointed time, Jesus will return as declared in Revelation 19. The heavens will be open and the one who is called Faithful and True will judge and make war in righteousness. From his mouth will come a sharp sword to strike down the rebellious nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. The King of kings and Lord of lords. And we will rule with him.
That is the hope and the scope of the reign of Jesus Christ. God promised to Abraham that the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God established Israel and Israel’s kings to be a beacon of light by which the nations would see the glory of God and be drawn to it. Psalm 2 and other prophecies in the Old Testament were pointing to a messiah who would fulfill the promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ came, and conquered and was coronated as that Kingly Messiah. And the story will end when he returns to bring all things into total submission and final judgement under his rule. The Bible is the grand, unfolding drama of redemption!
LIVING IN LIGHT OF THIS
What ought we to do with these truths? What perspective ought we to have in light of this in the year 2022? How should we then live? Psalm 2 is brought to bear in Acts. It is a story that is incredibly helpful to sync up powerful, God-revealed truths with proper God-exalted feelings. I hope the story in Acts 4 and the truths shown in Psalm 2 will cause this to happen in your mind and heart.
In Acts 4 Peter and John were teaching the people in the temple and the religious authorities were watching on. They were proclaiming and heralding the resurrection of Jesus. They were telling the people that King Jesus conquered death and is enthroned in heaven. Because of their message, Peter and John were arrested and held in jail overnight.
Many who heard the gospel put their faith in Christ that day. The next day Peter and John stood before these rulers and authorities. Learned scholars. Religious leaders. Rulers with authority to arrest and put in jail. Peter and John again proclaimed before them that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus. The reaction of the authorities to these two men was astonishment. These were uneducated, common men, but it was obvious that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
The rulers did not know what to do with these men except threaten them and tell them not to speak about Jesus anymore. Peter and John replied by saying that they couldn’t help themselves but to speak of Jesus. After they were released they went to their friends and told them all that happened. What was their response? They lifted up their voices together and said,
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your Servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:24-28).”
Sound familiar? They quoted Psalm 2, applying it to their situation. The kings and rulers and rebellious nations of Psalm 2 are referred to as Herd and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and people of Israel who planned and schemed and put Jesus, the better David, to death. This was the plan of God from the very beginning of time. God predestined wicked people to put to death his sinless Son.
God planned for Jesus to come as the perfect man, to conquer death through the cross and the empty tomb, to receive his kingly coronation in resurrection and is now seated at the right hand of God as King Jesus. It is this good news, this gospel, that we now proclaim to all the world, that all the peoples of the world might humbly serve and rejoice with trembling in the salvation of Jesus Christ.
This should be such good news to us that it blows all the gloom and doom of our present day out of the water! Oh may we, Grace Church, be like the Christians of Acts 4. May our hearts be firmly planted near the rivers of God’s Word, meditating on them day and night, so that our delight is in Jesus. Out of this overflow of delight, may our lives be a reflection of Jesus so that others can know that we have been drinking at the waters of our Kingly, Savior Shepherd.
May our lives be mainly marked not by the politics we hold to, but by the Savior we worship. That is not to say that the political arena is not important. I’m not saying that. They have their place and there are battles to fight in that arena. I am saying that our lives mainly, primarily and mostly need to be marked by our love for Jesus and obedience to his clear commands. May our neighbors and our co-workers and our family members see Jesus when they see us, and be drawn to the hope they too can have in Jesus.
May your perspective of what is happening in our state, in our country and across the world be shaped not mainly by cable news opinions, or hot-take tweets, or even thoughtful podcasts and articles. May you be primarily, deeply and profoundly shaped by pondering and meditating on God’s Word in such a way that it changes you down to the very core of what you think and how you feel. If God laughs at the spitball- type rebellions of the godless in Psalm 2, and if he predestines the plots of wicked people who killed Jesus to lead to the the greatest news in human history, ought we not to be the happiest people even in the worst of times? I do not mean happy as in being superficial, with fake smile, pretending everything is ok type people. I mean the type of people that are sorrowful yet always rejoicing. The type of people that say the best is yet to come. The type of people that are serious and joyful. Sober-minded and rejoicing.
Before I close with one last paragraph, here’s a really practical way you can fight for this to happen in your soul. This is true for any point in your weekly routine, but it could be especially helpful on Tuesday during the election. Take the songs we are singing today and put them into a playlist on your phone. Listen to them on a loop and ponder the words in your mind. Ask God to feel his truth in your heart. Pray them back to God. Like the tree in Psalm 1, be like a tree that soaks up the Scripture that is found in these lyrics.
Any personal crisis you are going through, or any crisis playing out on the local, national, or world stage, should be seen by us in light of this overarching story that is seen throughout the Bible. We are living the story of a grand, unfolding drama of redemption. Jesus came, he conquered, and was coronated as King over all the world and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.