Psalm 2

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Psalm 2 is the second Psalm of the Bible. It tells us that people can either defy God and perish, or submit to him and be blessed. Psalm 2 does not identify its author with a superscription. Acts 4:24-26 in the New Testament attributes it to David.[1]

Text and background[edit]

In Judaism[edit]

Psalm 2
1 Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?
2 The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His anointed:
3 'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.'
4 He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, the Lord hath them in derision.
5 Then will He speak unto them in His wrath, and affright them in His sore displeasure:
6 'Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.'
7 I will tell of the decree: the LORD said unto me: 'Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'
10 Now therefore, O ye kings, be wise; be admonished, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage in purity, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, when suddenly His wrath is kindled.
Happy are all they that take refuge in Him.

In the general sense, Psalm 2 is interpreted as referring to King David, God's anointed, defeating the enemies of Israel who gather against her. In addition, Psalm 2 is often considered to be messianic, referring to the Messianic Era when the kingdoms of the world gather against Israel and are defeated, and Jerusalem becomes a house of prayer for the nations. In this vein, the "messiah" of Psalm 2 is interpreted not as David but as the future Messiah, who will restore Israel to its former glory and bring world peace.

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a: "Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), 'Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee', as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance" (Psalms ii. 7-8).[2]
  2. Genesis Rabbah 44:8 R. Jonathan said: "Three persons were bidden 'ask', viz.: Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: Ask what I shall give thee (1 Kings III, 5). Ahaz: Ask thee a sign (Isa. VII, 11). The King Messiah: Ask of Me, etc. (Ps. II, 8)."[3]

In Christianity[edit]

Psalm 2
1. Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
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 break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (1708-12), verses 1-6 are viewed as threats against Christ's kingdom, verses 7-9 as promise to Christ as the head of this kingdom, and verses 10-12 as counsel to all to serve Christ.[4]

In Adam Clarke's commentary, verses 1-3 are viewed as opposition raised against the kingdom of Christ; verses 4-6 as Christ's victory, and the confusion of his enemies; verses 7-9 as the promulgation of the Gospel after his resurrection; and verses 10-12 as a call to all to accept it, because those who reject it will perish.[5]

In a most animated and highly poetical style, the writer, in "four stanzas of three verses each," sets forth the inveterate and furious, though futile, hostility of men to God and His anointed, God's determination to carry out His purpose, that purpose as stated more fully by His Son, the establishment of the Mediatorial kingdom, and the imminent danger of all who resist, as well as the blessing of all who welcome this mighty and triumphant king.

Controversy[edit]

English-speaking Protestant Christians commonly (but not always) translate verse 12 as "Kiss the son", as in the King James Version. The most common Jewish interpretation is "Embrace purity", an interpretation close to that of Catholics, who traditionally, following the Vulgate, have translated the phrase as "Embrace discipline". To translate as "Kiss the son", the word "bar" must be read as Aramaic ("son", while in Hebrew "son" is "ben") rather than Hebrew (purity) or Septuagint and Vulgate "discipline", "training", "teaching". (Reconciling this, the New American Bible combines verses 11 and 12 of the other Bibles into a whole new verse 11.[6]) Some Jewish authors have accused Protestant Christians of arbitrarily choosing to interpret the word as in a different language, in order to give the text a meaning more favorable to Christians ("son", understood as Jesus). In defense, Protestants cite other places in the Bible where isolated Aramaic words are found in Hebrew (e.g. the same word "bar" occurring in Proverbs 31:2).[7][8][9] However, the word Bar in Proverbs 31, while identical without nikkud to the word Bar in Psalm 2, is pronounced differently, the Aramaic "bar" in Proverbs being pronounced בַּר "Bar" (meaning son) and the Hebrew "Bar" being pronounced בַר "Var" (meaning purity). Thus the Hebrew and Aramaic words can be distinguished from each other, with בַר in Psalm 2 meaning "purity".

Musical settings[edit]

In 1567, Thomas Tallis set Psalm 2, "Why fum'th in fight", for 9 Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter.

Psalm 2 is one of the psalms used in George Frideric Handel's Messiah, where it is featured prominently towards the end of Part II. There is a long-standing custom of standing after verse 9 in Handel's Messiah.

Psalm 2 is pitted against Psalm 23 in Leonard Bernstein's second movement of Chichester Psalms.

Verse 8 of Psalm 2 is used in the song "You Said" by Reuben Morgan.

References[edit]