Notes (NET Translation)
Although it has no superscription, this psalm is attributed to David in Acts 4:25. It is a royal coronation psalm celebrating the enthronement of the new king (vv. 2, 6-10). The Davidic covenant is in the background of the psalm.
Psalm 2 features elements typical of prophetic speech: revelation of divine anger against foreign nations (vv. 1-3), revelation of heavenly scene and divine declaration (vv. 4-6), recitation of divine oracle (vv. 6-9), and prophetic description of consequences of rebellion (vv. 10-12). Considered from a purely contextual and historical point of view, Psalm 2 initially functioned as an oracle of legitimization during a royal enthronement ceremony of the historical Davidic king. Yet interpreted in its most literal sense, the prophetic features are only fully fulfilled in the reign of the Messiah in the future eschatological kingdom. So it is best to adopt a “both/and” rather than “either/or” approach to its prophetic nature. The enthronement of each historical Davidic king foreshadowed the future eschatological coronation of the ultimate Davidic king.1
When read in the light of the biblical canon as a whole, Psalm 2 functions typologically. The past enthronement of the historical Davidic king foreshadowed the future enthronement of the eschatological Messiah. What was predicated to historical Davidic kings in a hyperbolic sense would be literally true of the eschatological King: the Messiah really would rule all nations. While the historical Davidic king was the metaphorical covenant “son” of God (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14), the eschatological Messiah would be the greater Son of God in a heightened sense. The text meant all of this from the beginning as the pattern pointed to the eventual fullness of fulfillment.2
1 Why do the nations rebel? Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
The question why sets a tone of astonishment at the senseless rejection of God’s rule and ruler.3 Such plots are destined to ultimately fail. No particular historical background seems to be in view. Rather the language reflects any nations who do not acknowledge God.
2 The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the LORD and his anointed king.
Any anointed king who sat on the throne of David could be called the anointed one (2 Sam 16:13). Yet the fact that the rulers of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were a pale representation of the ideal ruler led to a hope for a future Davidic king (Isa 2:2-4; 9:2-7; 11:1-16; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-28; Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1-5; Zech 3:1-10; 6:12-15; 9:9-10:1; Hag 2:20-23). Acts 4:27-28 sees verses 1-2 fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion: “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen.”
3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
Shackles and ropes were used to constrain animals (Job 39:5; Jer 27:2). Note the close connection between God and his king (they’ve, their).
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust; the Lord taunts them.
The point is that God does not take the nations as seriously as they take themselves.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them and terrifies them in his rage, saying,
6 “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 The king says, “I will announce the LORD’s decree. He said to me: ‘You are my son! This very day I have become your father!
The day in question is the day of the king’s coronation, not the day of his birth. God is metaphorically pictured fathering the Davidic king in order to show that the king is the legitimate, divinely chosen ruler. The father/son language recalls the similar language in 2 Sam 7:14 concerning the Davidic covenant: “I will become his father and he will become my son.” In the NT this verse is connected with Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), transfiguration (Matt 17:5), and resurrection (Acts 13:33).
8 Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property.
In its historical context this verse was fulfilled when David conquered the surrounding nations (1 Chr 14:17; 18:11). Other ANE writings attribute universal dominion to newly enthroned rulers who did not literally have dominion over the whole world.4 The NT sees Christ’s universal rule as the fulfillment of this verse (1 Cor 15:25-27; Heb 2:5-8).
9 You will break them with an iron scepter; you will smash them like a potter’s jar!'”
The first half of the verse could also be translated as: “You will rule/shepherd them with a rod”. There are two possibilities for the nations: firm shepherding or destruction.
This kind of imagery was frequent in the ancient world. For example, Egyptian kings would often write the names of their vassals on pieces of ceramic pottery, then smash the pottery with their scepter to illustrate how they would destroy rebels. Mesopotamian texts also feature this motif, e.g., “Sargon shattered the lands like pottery and bridled the four corners of the earth.”5
10 So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction!
11 Serve the LORD in fear! Repent in terror!
In this verse the LORD is Yahweh, not the king.
12 Give sincere homage! Otherwise he will be angry, and you will die because of your behavior, when his anger quickly ignites. How blessed are all who take shelter in him!
The MT literally begins verse 12 with the phrase: “Kiss the son”. The son is the king (v. 7) and so this refers to homage (1 Sam 10:1; 1 Kgs 19:18). Similar language is found in other ANE writings.6
Bateman IV, Herbert W., Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston. Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2012. 75-83.
Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.
Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.
VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.