I am a car guy. I always have been. Some of my earliest memories are of steering our family car while sitting on my dad’s lap—which today would get you in trouble, but back in the seventies in the Blue Mountains, it was pretty normal! I often tell Nonie about different cars and point them out on the road. I tell her all sorts of things about cars: how much power and torque they have, or what they drive like. You’d think I’d know after 23 years of marriage, but she’s totally uninterested in cars. She goes to sleep.
I know it’s a bit embarrassing, but I memorised power outputs of V8 Falcons and Commodores when I was younger. Then I got interested in fast European cars. I’m obsessed with Porsche 911s. Normal people think I’m quite mad, and they’re probably right. But I can’t help it. I love cars.
I have two cars, which I know sounds a bit much, but they’re both old, so don’t get too excited! I have a little Golf that’s about ten years old and falling apart. The headlining is all saggy, and when I’m driving, it rests on my head, which is incredibly annoying! And I have a 27 year old Land Cruiser that I use for camping and 4WDing. I use the Golf nearly every day, but only use the truck when I get away for a camping trip or something like that.
When I’m driving the Golf, I’m like everyone else in Sydney traffic. It’s a small car, so no one lets me in. I have to wait at intersections like everyone else. I have to dodge other cars driven by people who are texting or looking out the window or whatever else they’re doing apart from concentrating on driving. Like everyone else, I get to where I’m going, and I’m stressed and giving thanks to God that I made it through another slog to work or wherever through Sydney’s chaotic traffic.
But then the Golf goes in for a service and I use my truck for a day or two. All of a sudden, driving in Sydney traffic is different. The Golf is small and no one cares about it. No one lets me in. No one’s terrified of a Golf. But the ‘Cruiser is a massive thing. It weighs nearly 3 tonnes and is pretty imposing. It’s got a big steel bull bar. I’ve lifted the suspension and put huge tyres on it. Small children point at it and go, “Oooohhh! Look at that big truck, mum!” That makes me feel good! Parking is a nightmare, of course, and it has the turning circle of an oil tanker. But it’s heaps of fun in traffic, because everyone gets out of my way. Merging is easy. I just indicate and move over, and the rest of the traffic stops! People see me coming and they think, “I’m not pulling out in front of that thing! I’ll get squashed!” So they let me through. It’s awesome!
When I’m driving it, I feel like Psalm 2 is about my ‘Cruiser.
‘Why do the Camrys merge and the Corollas indicate in vain? The Daihatsus of the earth rise up and the Astras band together against the Land Cruiser and against its driver, saying, “Let us break their bull bar and throw off their lifted suspension!” The One enthroned behind the wheel laughs, the driver scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his merriment and terrifies them in his joy, saying, “I have installed 35” tyres on my ‘Cruiser, my politically incorrect Land Cruiser!”
OK, so I’m hamming it up a fair bit, but you get the point, hopefully.
Psalm 2 isn’t about a lifted Land Cruiser. It’s about something, or rather someone, much more impressive. On first reading, it’s about what God has done for Israel’s greatest king, David, but as you read it a bit closer, you realise that what it’s saying has to be about someone much more powerful than just a normal human King, however great David may have been. Psalm 2 is ultimately about what God has done for and through the Lord Jesus.
I’ve split this Psalm up into 3 sections: First, verses 1-6 are about the challenge to God’s king. Second, verses 7-9 are about the coronation of God’s king. Third, verses 10-12 are about the celebration of God’s king. We’ll see what this psalm is saying about David in its immediate context. But as we go through it we’ll also see how the New Testament writers use it as they apply it to the Lord Jesus. So let’s get into it the first section.
1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (NIV)
The immediate context is that David has been crowned king of Israel. It would be around 960 BC. Saul was the first king of Israel, but he was unfaithful to God, so God took him out and replaced him with David, a man after God’s own heart most of the time. David’s journey to the throne was pretty rough. Saul tried to kill him a few times, the Philistines had a crack at him, and a bunch of other people tried to make another bloke king, but ultimately, God’s will prevailed like it always does, and David was anointed by the High Priest of Israel as God’s king.
That word ‘anointed’ is key to this psalm. You know the word, ‘Messiah’? Well, it’s the same as the word, ‘Christ’. Messiah is Hebrew, Christ is Greek, and they both mean the same thing, ‘the anointed one’, literally, ‘the one smeared with oil’.
In the Old Testament, three types of people were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings. They all had oil poured on their heads. This symbolised God’s ‘seal of approval’, if you like. The prophets spoke God’s word to God’s people. The priests mediated between God and his people at the temple. And the king led God’s people. So here Psalm 2 is telling us that David has been anointed as God’s messiah, the man responsible to lead God’s people as their king.
That helps us realise that the question in verse 1, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” isn’t a request for information. It’s really an exclamation of astonishment! If David is God’s anointed king and God has installed David on his holy mountain, then why on earth would anyone challenge this king? It’s crazy! It’s like a little Honda Jazz thinking it’s going to pull out of an intersection in front of my ‘Cruiser. What are you doing, you maniac?? You’re going to get destroyed. You’ll be like a little speed hump!
God has put David on the throne of Israel. The nations around Israel are mad if they think they have any chance of defeating David in battle. They challenge God’s king, and God laughs at them first, so verse 4, “the One enthroned in heaven laughs, the LORD scoffs at them”. But then it gets serious in verse 5: “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath. I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain!” The challenge to God’s king is serious, but in the end, it is sheer lunacy and it amounts to nothing.
Now, look at how Jesus’ disciples use these verses in Acts 4. The context is that Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. They met a bloke out the front of the temple who was paralysed and so was begging people for food or money. The risen and glorified Jesus enabled Peter to speak words of healing to this man and up he gets! He runs through the temple jumping and dancing and leaping about like I did when Tottenham scored the winning goal in the last second of the game against Ajax to get into the Champion’s League Final last Thursday morning. I was going completely berserk, but you guys just know I had to get it this sermon somehow!
Anyway, in Acts 4, Peter and John get dragged in front of the Jewish religious leaders to explain themselves, which they do. Then they’re threatened by those same religious leaders that they are not to speak ever again about the Lord Jesus. Then you get to Acts 4 verse 23-30, and notice how Jesus’ followers use Psalm 2:
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.'
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (NIV)
Jesus’ followers know this psalm is originally about king David and that David wrote it, but they also know that it points forward in history to the Lord Jesus himself, God’s ultimate great king and messiah. They know Herod and Pilate and most of Israel conspired and plotted against Jesus, but they also know Jesus’ death wasn’t a shock to God. The cross was always God’s plan, and so was the resurrection!
So the nations around Israel were a challenge to king David when he wrote Psalm 2, but ultimately that challenge amounted to nothing. In the same way, Herod and Pilate and most of Israel were a challenge to Jesus, but ultimately, that challenge also amounted to nothing! God scoffs at his enemies. He laughs at them. Then he rebukes them and terrifies them in his wrath. And Jesus walks out of the tomb!
We see the same thing happening all around us today. In the 1960s in the Cultural Revolution in China, Chairman Mao tried to wipe Christianity out of China altogether.
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The Kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against His Anointed One, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in Heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
God says, “There are now more than 130 million Chinese Christians, Chairman Mao. Your challenge to me is arrogant lunacy and you will spend eternity in hell understanding the consequences of it.”
Today, you and I see immense injustice in our world. We see governments opposed to God oppressing and persecuting God’s people. Closer to home, each of us experience similar things, even if not on that sort of scale. Psalm 2 reminds us that opposition to God is lunacy and that ultimately, God and therefore God’s people will have the last laugh. God’s justice will prevail.
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (NIV)
So in the first section, it’s David speaking. Now here in the second section, it’s God speaking, and it’s God speaking to David, but only in a limited way. There’s a sense in which at David’s coronation, God becomes his father. The king of Israel was often referred to as ‘God’s son’. But the nations aren’t David’s inheritance. The ends of the earth aren’t David’s possession. He’s the king of Israel, not the king of the world. That’s why this can only be about David in a limited way. So we have to go to the New Testament to figure out what this is really talking about.
So here’s a few parts of the New Testament, and listen to the echo of Psalm 2 in these verses. The first is Matthew 3 when Jesus is baptised:
As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with Him.” (NIV)
We hear that, and we’re reminded of Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son, today I have become your Father.”
Then you’ve got Matthew 17, when Jesus goes up this mountain with Peter, James, and John, and is transfigured. That’s not a word we normally use or are familiar with, but it means that for a moment, Jesus peeled back his human body, as it were, and allowed his disciples to catch a glimpse of what he really looks like. Have a go at this:
After six days, Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
While he (Peter) was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt 17:1-2, 5 NIV)
Again, we’re back in Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son.”
Then you’ve got Acts 13. This time it’s Paul preaching in a synagogue in Antioch. Here’s verses 32-33:
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors, He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” (NIV)
So, yes, Psalm 2 is about David’s coronation but only partly. These words of Psalm 2 are totally fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, God’s true Son.
OK, so we’ve got a challenge to God’s anointed king that’s ultimately completely pointless. We’ve got the coronation of God’s king, and God calls the king his Son. Then lastly, we’ve got the celebration of the king.
The last few verses of Psalm 2 are where we are invited to take refuge in God’s great king.
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (NIV)
This really is an Old Testament version of Phillip Jensen’s ‘Two Ways to Live’. At first this sounds like a warning and sure, there’s a fairly blunt warning here, but I think that the overall tone of these last few verses is a gracious offer of mercy. The whole earth is invited to seek refuge in God’s king.
In king David’s time, God had made a covenant with his people. A covenant is like an agreement. He rescued his people, adopted them as his children, he promised them that as long as they kept their side of the agreement they made with him, he would protect them from their enemies and bless everything they put their hands to.
Unfortunately, as you read through the Old Testament, it quickly becomes clear that Israel didn’t often keep their side of the covenant they made with God. They kept doing the wrong thing. They worshipped false gods. They treated the poor and vulnerable in their society miserably instead of looking after them as they were meant to. They ignored all the people God sent their way to call them back to being faithful to him. And after a few hundred years of God being patient, his patience ran out and he punished them for their rejection of him.
We need to look at the end of Psalm 2 through everything God did through the Lord Jesus. See, we’re not living in Jerusalem under the Old Agreement God made with his people. We’re not Old Testament Jews who go to the temple to make sacrifices to God when we sin.
No, it’s different for us. It’s different for everyone now. “God shows His love for us in this: it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus is God’s ultimate great king and messiah. He lived the life we haven’t lived, and died the death we deserved to die. Then God raised Jesus from death to prove that everything he did and said was true.
Therefore, let us be wise, let us be warned. We can choose to joyfully serve the Lord Jesus with reverent fear. We can choose to kiss him. That means we can choose to honour and worship Jesus as he deserves. Or, we can choose to continue in our own way. But we need to know that in the end that way leads to destruction, because at some point, his wrath will flare up in an instant against all those who reject him. The wise choice is to take refuge in Jesus as the only safe place available to us.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s as people moved to the West away from the East Coast cities in the United States, they got to the vast flat prairies in the middle of the USA. There were many dangers facing these people, one of which was that the flat ground was covered in long grass. When lightening hit the ground, the grass would burn up and be pushed along by strong winds. Their covered wagons were often just burned up and lots of people died.
After a while they figured out the only way they could be safe as they travelled west. They’d see and smell smoke coming their way and they knew they had to act fast. They’d crouch down in the grass with their backs to the wind, and light the grass in front of them. The wind would push the fire away from them and burn up all the grass. Then they’d move their wagons onto the burnt grass and wait. Soon enough the fire approaching them would hit the already burnt grass and the fire went out because there was nothing left to burn. The only safe place to stand was somewhere the fire had already been.
It’s the same with us. Psalm 2 tells us that God’s wrath can flare up in an instant and I promise you it will burn up anything in its path. The only safe place to stand is somewhere God’s anger has already been. That safe place is the Lord Jesus. He took God’s anger on himself when he was crucified, and only in him are we safe, because God’s anger isn’t going to burn the same place twice.