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Psalm 2

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Psalm 2
"Why do the heathen rage"
Beginning of Psalm 2, in a miniature from the Musée Condé, representing David thanking God who appears in a halo.
Other name
  • "Quare fremuerunt gentes"
Textby David
LanguageHebrew (original)
Psalm 2
← Psalm 1
Psalm 3 →
Psalm 2:11, "Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling", appears in Hebrew over the entrance to a synagogue in Sibiu, Romania
BookBook of Psalms
Hebrew Bible partKetuvim
Order in the Hebrew part1
CategorySifrei Emet
Christian Bible partOld Testament
Order in the Christian part19

Psalm 2 is the second psalm of the Book of Psalms, beginning in English in the King James Version: "Why do the heathen rage". In Latin, it is known as "Quare fremuerunt gentes".[1] Psalm 2 does not identify its author with a superscription, but Acts 4:24–26 in the New Testament attributes it to David.[2] According to the Talmud, Psalm 2 is a continuation of Psalm 1.

The psalm is a regular part of Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican liturgies as well as Protestant psalmody. It has often been set to music; George Frideric Handel set nine verses in Part II of his Messiah.

Background and themes[edit]

According to the Talmud (Berakhot 10b), Psalm 2 is a continuation of Psalm 1.[3] 10th-century rabbi Saadia Gaon, in his commentary on the Psalms, notes that Psalm 1 begins with the word "Happy" and the last verse of Psalm 2 ends with the word "Happy", joining them thematically.[4]

According to the Talmud and commentators such as Saadia Gaon, Abraham ibn Ezra, and the Karaite Yefet ben Ali, this psalm is messianic, referring to the advent of the Jewish Messiah who will be preceded by the wars of Gog and Magog.[4] In this vein, the "king" of Psalm 2 is interpreted not as David but as the future King Messiah from the Davidic line, who will restore Israel to its former glory and bring world peace. The Talmud teaches (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 you", as it is said, "I will tell of the decree ... this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance" (Psalms 2:7–8).[5]

Similarly, the Midrash Tehillim teaches:

R. Jonathan said: "Three persons were bidden, 'Ask'—Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: 'Ask what I shall give thee' (I Kings 3:5). Ahaz: 'Ask thee a sign' (Isaiah 7:11). The King Messiah: 'Ask of Me', etc. (Psalms 2:8)."[6][7]

Rashi and Radak, however, identify the subject of this psalm as David, following his victory over the Philistines.[4] Arenda suggests that Rashi's view was influenced by that of early Christian commentators who interpreted verse 7 as referring to Christ.[4]

Christian writers such as Hermann Gunkel[8] and Hans Joachin Kras[9] see the psalm as a song of the Judean king himself at the festival of his accession, while Hossfeld sees the psalm as merely being influenced by the Egyptian and Hellenistic royal ideology.[10]

Most Christian scholars interpret the subject of the psalm as Jesus Christ and his role as the Messiah. Matthew Henry interprets verses 1–6 are viewed as threats against Christ's kingdom, verses 7–9 as a promise to Christ to be the head of this kingdom, and verses 10–12 as counsel to all to serve Christ.[11] Charles Spurgeon and Adam Clarke similarly interpret the psalm as referring to the opposition against Christ's rulership, the selection of Christ by God as his "own son", and the eventual victory and reign of Christ over his enemies.[12][13]



The following table shows the Hebrew text[14][15] of the Psalm with vowels alongside an English translation based upon the JPS 1917 translation (now in the public domain).

Verse Hebrew English translation (JPS 1917)
1 לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃ Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?
2 יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֽוֹ׃ The kings of the earth stand up, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD, and against His anointed:
3 נְֽ֭נַתְּקָה אֶת־מֽוֹסְרוֹתֵ֑ימוֹ וְנַשְׁלִ֖יכָה מִמֶּ֣נּוּ עֲבֹתֵֽימוֹ׃ 'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.'
4 יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם יִשְׂחָ֑ק אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י יִלְעַג־לָֽמוֹ׃ He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, the Lord hath them in derision.
5 אָ֤ז יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֵ֣ימוֹ בְאַפּ֑וֹ וּֽבַחֲרוֹנ֥וֹ יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ׃ Then will He speak unto them in His wrath, and affright them in His sore displeasure:
6 וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י עַל־צִ֝יּ֗וֹן הַר־קׇדְשִֽׁי׃ 'Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.'
7 אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל־חֹ֥ק יְֽהֹוָ֗ה אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃ I will tell of the decree: The LORD said unto me: 'Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.
8 שְׁאַ֤ל מִמֶּ֗נִּי וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה ג֭וֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶ֑ךָ וַ֝אֲחֻזָּתְךָ֗ אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ׃ Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל כִּכְלִ֖י יוֹצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃ Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'
10 וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃ Now therefore, O ye kings, be wise; be admonished, ye judges of the earth.
11 עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּיִרְאָ֑ה וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה׃ Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כׇּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ׃ 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.

King James Version[edit]

  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.



Verse 1 is recited during Selichot.[16]

This psalm is also recited to alleviate a headache, and when caught in a sea gale.[17]

New Testament[edit]

Some verses of Psalm 2 are referenced in the New Testament:

Catholic Church[edit]

According to the Rule of St. Benedict (530 AD), Psalms 1 to 20 were mainly reserved for the office of Prime. This psalm was chosen by St. Benedict of Nursia for Monday's office of Prime: in the Rule of St. Benedict of 530 it was recited or sung between Psalm 1 and Psalm 6.[19]

In the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 2 is sung or recited in the Office of Readings of the Sunday of the first week,[20] with Psalm 1 and Psalm 3. Every Tuesday, the faithful of Opus Dei, after invoking their Guardian Angel and kissing the rosary, recite Psalm 2 in Latin.[21]

Book of Common Prayer[edit]

In the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 2 is appointed to be read on the morning of the first day of the month,[22] as well as at Mattins on Easter Day.[23]

The Scottish Psalter[edit]

The Presbyterian Scottish Psalter of 1650 rewords the psalm in a metrical form that can be sung to a tune set to the common meter.[24]

Musical settings[edit]

In 1567, Thomas Tallis set Psalm 2, "Why fum'th in sight", for his Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter. Heinrich Schütz wrote a setting of a paraphrase in German, "Was haben doch die Leut im Sinn", SWV 098, for the Becker Psalter, published first in 1628.

Psalm 2 is one of the psalms used in Handel's "Messiah" (HWV 56). He set the King James Version of verses 1–4 and to 9 in four in movement in Part II,[clarification needed] beginning with movement 40.[25]

In France, Pierre Robert composed a grand motet "Quare fremuerunt gentes", for the Chapelle Royale in the Louvre. Marc-Antoine Charpentier set around 1675 one " Quare fremuerunt gentes" H.168 - H.168 a, for soloists, double chorus, strings and continuo, another one, for 3 voices, 2 treble instruments and continuo H.184, around 1682. Michel-Richard de Lalande in 1706 made his grand motet (S70) on this Psalm. Jean-Baptiste Lully did the same.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote a setting of Psalm 2 in German during his time as Generalmusicdirektor for church music in Berlin. The setting is for two four part choirs with sections for solo voices and was first performed in Berlin Cathedral on the first day of Christmas 1843. "Warum toben die Heiden" was published as his Op 78 No 1.

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

Verses 1–4 form one of the texts Leonard Bernstein used for his Chichester Psalms. It is used as counterpart to Psalm 23 in the second movement, sung by the tenors and basses.

References in Second Temple Jewish Literature[edit]

Dead Sea Scrolls[edit]

  • 4Q174: This text, also called 4QFlorilegium, is an explanation (pesher) on several Messianic texts. It reads, “‘Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His anointed’ [Ps 2:1]. The meaning is that the nations shall set themselves and conspire vainly against the chosen of Israel in the Last Days."[26]
  • 1QSA: This reference is debated, and either states "When God has fathered [יולד] the Messiah among them" or "When God has caused the Messiah to come [יולך] among them." If the former, it is likely a reference to Ps 2:7.[27]

1 Enoch[edit]

There is a clear reference to Psalm 2 in 1 Enoch, found in 1En. 48:8-10. This text states that "downcast will be the faces of the kings of the earth" who have "denied the Lord of Spirits and his anointed one".[28] The phrase "kings of the earth" and "Lord...and his anointed one" point back to Ps 2:2.[27]

Psalms of Solomon[edit]

Psalm of Solomon 17 contains a number of shared themes and likely allusions to Psalm 2, including one clear reference to Psalm 2:9, found in Ps. Sol. 17:23-24.[29] Those verses read, "To smash the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel, to shatter all their substance with an iron rod."[30] Additionally, the phrase "the peoples of the nations to be subject to him under his yoke" may look back to Psalm 2:2.[29]


English-speaking Protestant Christians usually translate the first phrase of verse 12 as "Kiss the son", as in the King James Version.[31] This reads the word bar as Aramaic "son", different from Hebrew ben "son". Some Jewish authors have accused Protestant Christians of arbitrarily choosing to interpret the word as Aramaic to suggest a reference to Jesus Christ. Protestants, however, cite other places in the Bible with isolated Aramaic words found in Hebrew, like the same word bar occurring in Proverbs 31:2.[32][33][34]

By contrast, the most common Jewish interpretation of verse 12, reading bar in Hebrew, is "Embrace purity". This is an interpretation close to that of Catholics, who traditionally follow the Vulgate and Septuagint to translate the phrase as "Embrace discipline".

The New American Bible reconciles by combining verses 11 and 12 of other translations into a single verse 11.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Parallel Latin/English Psalter / Psalmus 2". Archived from the original on 2017-09-30. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  2. ^ Acts 4:24–26
  3. ^ Abramowitz, Rabbi Jack (2018). "Psalms – Chapter 2". Orthodox Union. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Aranda, Mariano Gomez (2018). "Medieval Jewish Exegesis of Psalm 2" (PDF). Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. 18. doi:10.5508/jhs.2018.v18.a3. hdl:10261/176792.
  5. ^ Soncino Talmud edition. Online here
  6. ^ Soncino Midrash Rabbah (vol. 1, pp. 365–366)
  7. ^ "Midrash Tehillim / Psalms 2" (PDF). matsati.com. 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  8. ^ Gunkel, Hermann: Die Psalmen, (Göttingen 1926), p5.
  9. ^ "Hans-Joachim Kraus", Psalmen 1–63. 1. Teilband, (Neukirchen-Vluyn 1972), p13f.
  10. ^ siehe Hossfeld, Frank-Lothar und Erich Zenger: Die Psalmen, Bd. 1, Psalm 1–50, (Würzburg 1993), p50.
  11. ^ Henry, Matthew (2019). "Psalms 2". Bible Study Tools. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  12. ^ Spurgeon, Charles (2019). "Psalm 2 Bible Commentary". Christianity.com. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  13. ^ "Adam Clarke Commentary: Psalms 2". Study Light. 2019. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  14. ^ "Psalms – Chapter 2". Mechon Mamre.
  15. ^ "Psalms 2 - JPS 1917". Sefaria.org.
  16. ^ Brauner, Reuven (2013). "Shimush Pesukim: Comprehensive Index to Liturgical and Ceremonial Uses of Biblical Verses and Passages" (PDF) (2nd ed.). p. 31. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Illness, Travel". Daily Tehillim. Archived from the original on December 14, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  18. ^ a b c Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1901). The Book of Psalms: with Introduction and Notes. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Vol. Book IV and V: Psalms XC-CL. Cambridge: At the University Press. p. 838. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  19. ^ Prosper Guéranger, Règle de saint Benoît, Solesmes Abbey, reprinted 2007.
  20. ^ The main cycle of liturgical prayers takes place over four weeks.
  21. ^ De spiritu et de piis servandis consuetudinibus – (Del Espíritu y de las Costumbres, Roma, 1990) édition- n° 116.
  22. ^ Church of England, Book of Common Prayer: The Psalter as printed by John Baskerville in 1762
  23. ^ "The Book of Common Prayer: Proper Psalms On Certain Days" (PDF). The Church of England. p. 6. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  24. ^ "Psalm 2, Scottish Psalter".
  25. ^ Block, Daniel I. (2001). "Handel's Messiah: Biblical and Theological Perspectives" (PDF). Didaskalia. 12 (2). Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  26. ^ The Dead Sea scrolls : a new translation. Wise, Michael Owen, 1954-, Abegg, Martin G., Jr., Cook, Edward M., 1952- (Revised ed.). [San Francisco]. 2005-10-25. ISBN 006076662X. OCLC 60341070.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ a b Collins, John J. (2009-01-01). "The Interpretation Of Psalm 2". Echoes from the Caves: Qumran and the New Testament: 49–66. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004176966.i-350.13. ISBN 9789047430407.
  28. ^ 1 Enoch : the Hermeneia translation. Nickelsburg, George W. E., 1934-, VanderKam, James C. (rev. ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 2012. ISBN 9781451424379. OCLC 840417499.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  29. ^ a b Janse, Sam. You Are My Son. pp. 55–68.
  30. ^ Psalms of Solomon 17:23-24, New English Translation of the Septuagint
  31. ^ Psalm 2:12: Evangelical Heritage Version
  32. ^ Parsons, John J. "Psalm 2 in Hebrew". Hebrew for Christians.
  33. ^ "12. Objections to 2nd and 22nd Psalm". truth.net.
  34. ^ "Jewish Interpretations of "Bar" as "Son" in Psalm 2:12". Jews for Jesus. 1997.
  35. ^ "Psalm 2". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 2021-09-12.

External links[edit]