Psalm 2 – The One True King
We love our royals, don’t we? This speaks to the popularity of TV shows such as “The Crown” and all of the media attention around royal weddings. We are fascinated by the spectacle of people who are somehow set apart from the rest of us from birth, born of royal stock. Have you ever thought you are from royal stock as well?
Growing up with two older brothers and one TV, I didn’t have much say in what I watched. We watched war movies, action/adventure movies, and the adventures of Hercules. I remember the gods on Mt. Olympus sitting in heaven, looking down on earth and watching the exploits of their favored son, Hercules. Psalm 2 reminds me of this scene.
Psalm 2 – Act 1
The psalm plays out in three acts. First a prologue where the poet asks the question: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” (1) Act 1 then explores the goings on at the earthly court.
Verses 2-3 are a lively scene with talk of revolt, rebellion, whispering and conspiracy. It’s a raucous gathering. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.’”
You can almost hear the sound of hissing as they plan their revolt. It was common at that time that when a strong king died, subject states would attempt to free themselves from the reign of the king. The new king needed to establish himself as ruler.
Psalm 2 – Act 2
The scene changes in Act 2 (vs. 4-6) to the heavenly courts. God looks on the goings on and laughs at the antics. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.” (4) This is not a friendly, amused, laugh, but one of derision. God is angry – I have set my king in Zion, yet the people have no regard for God or his anointed one.
Psalm 2 – Act 3
Act 3 shifts back to the earthly court where the king repeats God’s oracle, perhaps adding some words of his own. God says, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” (7b) Words of adoption, words for a coronation expressing a special relationship between the king and his god. In Egypt and Babylonia, the king was considered an adopted son of a god. As adopted son and king he is going to use his power, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (9)
In the Epilogue, the poet speaks again, warning people to be wise and serve the Lord by allegiance to the true king. These words are not just to the people, but to the kings as well for they were to serve the lord. “Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet.” (11)
So we have it, a play in three parts with prologue and epilogue – conflict and resolution as God watches from heaven.
What Does This Say to Us?
What does this say to us today in our country without a king? Did it admonish the people to blind obedience to the king, or in our case, the rightful authority, whoever that may be? As mentioned, it was common in those days to look upon the king as a son of a god, much as Hercules was the son of a god. So why not see the Israelite king in same manner?
Certainly we can see the danger in doing so, making a king into a son of a god. Power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts absolutely. It would seem that to declare a king god’s son is to set him up for corruption. Who is to guarantee that he will use his power for righteousness rather than destruction?
Two Strains of Thought On Kingship
There are two strains of thought in the Old Testament in regards to the king. Some see the king as God’s anointed, appointed by God to lead God’s people and thus to be followed as one would follow God. We see this in this psalm and other royal psalms as well as the books of Kings.
However there is another voice in Scripture that sees the desire to have a king as the folly of the people. We see this in Samuel and later in the prophets. The Israelite people looked around and saw that other people had kings to rule over them and wanted one so that they could be like other nations. They wanted a king so God gave them what they asked for even though the king was not always the best leader, even though kings sometimes abused their power. Before this they had been led by judges, some of them proved to be less than worthy, corrupt, just as the kings proved to be less than ideal. They thought it would be better with a king, especially if the king were chosen by God.
Thus started a long line of kings. Even from the beginning there were problems. Saul proved to not be up to the challenge of leadership so was replaced by David, God’s chosen. David was a mighty warrior king, devoted to his God, yet very human in his failings. He abused his power in taking Bathsheba and arranging for the death of her husband.
David was followed by Solomon, a worldly wise king who consolidated power under him, making many alliances through marriage with other kingdoms, but not necessarily a Godly man. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) as part of his search for power. These women brought with them their own gods. This was politically smart but not in keeping with God’s will. Solomon was interested in worldly power and gained that power. He built the temple, established Jerusalem as a world power, so in that sense was a great king. But that was it. Solomon was followed by many lesser kings who did not heed God’s word, as well as some king reformers.
Still, the people wanted a king. They saw the king as God’s chosen. They believed that in following the king, they were following God. Psalm 2 is a testimony to that tradition. Kingship in this tradition was connected to following God’s ways, God’s laws. The good king kept God’s commands – yet there is more to this psalm.
Who Is the Ultimate King and Son?
Who is the ultimate king and son but Jesus. Christians can see many aspects of Jesus in Psalm 2 . At his baptism God proclaims him his son and again when transfigured on the mountain. He was God’s own son, the anointed one, messiah and king, about whom they were spreading rumors, whispering amongst themselves as the religious leaders plotted his destruction. Jesus didn’t let any of this sway him. He stood his ground, continued to do the Father’s work even as forces gathered against him.
Jesus died because his was a kingship that the powers could not understand or accept. It was a kingship where the last were first, where those who were in power, had to serve the least among them. His was a kingship not of this world or focused on worldly power. Jesus laughed in the face of their contrivances, confident of his identity. Jesus was the ultimate king, the Lord’s anointed, yet the world rejected him.
What Does It Mean to be God’s Son?
God declares in this psalm, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” What does it mean for us to be God’s son, God’s adopted children? Does it mean all will bow down before us? That life will be easy? Of course not. It didn’t happen for Jesus, nor will it happen for us.
Rather, people may plot against us, spread rumors or slander us as the powers of this world work to bring us down. However, in the end they will not prevail. God laughs at the foolishness of some of the things we worry about. He is angered by abuse of power, by those who mistreat the poor and vulnerable among us, those who make themselves king but do not follow his commandments to love. God laughs at our attempts to think we are in control, when we are not – but no matter how much we falter, our God will pick us up again and carry us on his shoulders.
Scripture and Jesus – Foundation of our Faith
God gave us the ultimate king in Jesus but the world did not accept him. Psalm 1 spoke of the importance of studying Scripture, God’s word/law. Psalm 2 calls us to recognize our place as God’s beloved children and to accept Jesus as the Lord’s anointed one. And so we study Scripture and come to know Jesus better, accepting him as the one true king. Scripture and Jesus, the foundation upon which our faith is built.
If only we were as fascinated with Jesus, the one true king, as we are with the royals!
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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