Psalms 2 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The circumstances which called forth this Psalm stand out clearly. A king of Israel, recently placed upon the throne, and consecrated by the solemn rite of anointing to be Jehovah’s representative in the government of His people, is menaced by a confederacy of subject nations, threatening to revolt and cast off their allegiance. The moment is critical: but his cause is Jehovah’s; their endeavour is futile. He asserts his high claims; and the nations are exhorted to yield a willing submission, and avoid the destruction which awaits rebels against the authority of Jehovah.
Who then was the king? and what was the occasion referred to? The king’s consciousness of his high calling, and the confidence with which he appeals to the divine promise, point to a time when that promise was still recent, and the lofty ideal of the theocratic kingdom had not been blurred and defaced by failure and defeat. For such a time we must go back to the reigns of David and Solomon.
(1) The language of Act 4:25 does not decide the question, for ‘David’ in the N.T. may mean no more than ‘the Psalter’ (Heb 4:7) or ‘a Psalmist.’ The older commentators however attribute the Psalm to David, and suppose the occasion to have been the attack of the Philistines shortly after he was anointed king over all Israel (2Sa 5:17 ff.), or of the confederacy of Ammonites and Syrians described in 2 Samuel 10. But the Psalm speaks plainly ( Psa 2:3) of subject nations, while the Philistines certainly were not David’s subjects at the time, and it is doubtful if the Syrians were. See note on 2 Samuel 10.
(2) On the other hand there is good reason for supposing that Solomon was the king referred to. He was anointed at Gihon, and solemnly enthroned on Zion (1Ki 1:45). Zion was already ‘Jehovah’s holy mountain’ in virtue of the presence of the Ark there. So strongly was the theocratic character of the kingdom then realised that he is said to have sat ‘on the throne of Jehovah’ (1Ch 29:23; cp. Psa 28:5). The Psalm is based upon the great promise in 2Sa 7:12 ff., which, although not limited to Solomon, would naturally be claimed by him with special confidence. Solomon succeeded to the great kingdom which his father had built up. But he was young. The succession was disputed. What more likely than that some of the subject nations should threaten to revolt upon his accession? Hadad’s request (1Ki 11:21) shews that his enemies thought that their opportunity was come. It is true that we have no account of any such revolt in the Historical Books. But their records are incomplete and fragmentary; and the language of the Psalm implies that the revolt was only threatened, and had not as yet broken out into open war. There was still hope that wiser counsels might prevail ( Psa 2:10 ff.); and if they did, we should hardly expect to find any reference in Kings and Chron. to a mere threat of rebellion. Moreover, though Solomon’s reign was on the whole peaceful, there are incidental notices which make it plain that it was not uniformly and universally so. He made great military preparations (1Ki 4:26; 1Ki 9:15 ff; 1Ki 11:27, 2Ch 8:5 ff.), and engaged in wars (2Ch 8:3); and Hadad and Rezon succeeded in ‘doing him mischief’ (1Ki 11:21-25).
(3) The conjectures which refer the Psalm to a later occasion have but little probability. The confederacy of Pekah and Rezin against Ahaz (Isaiah 7); and the invasion of Judah by the Moabites and their allies (2 Chronicles 20) have been suggested: but neither of these was a revolt of subject nations.
The question still remains whether Solomon was himself the writer. The king and the poet appear to be identified in Psa 2:7 ff.; but in such a highly dramatic Psalm, it is at least possible that the poet might introduce the king as a speaker, as he introduces the nations ( Psa 2:3), and Jehovah ( Psa 2:6).
The particular historical reference is however of relatively small moment compared with the typical application of the Psalm to the Kingdom of Christ. To understand this, it is necessary to realise the peculiar position of the Israelite king. Israel was Jehovah’s son, His firstborn (Exo 4:22; Deu 32:6); and Israel’s king, as the ruler and representative of the people, was adopted by Jehovah as His son, His firstborn (2Sa 7:13 ff.; Psa 89:26-27). It was a moral relationship, sharply distinguished from the supposed descent of kings and heroes from gods in the heathen world in virtue of which they styled themselves Zeus-born, sons of Zeus, and the like. It involved on the one side fatherly love and protection, on the other filial obedience and devotion.
The king moreover was not an absolute monarch in his own right. He was the Anointed of Jehovah, His viceroy and earthly representative. To him therefore was given not only the sovereignty over Israel, but the sovereignty over the nations. Rebellion against him was rebellion against Jehovah.
Thus, as the adopted son of Jehovah and His Anointed King, he was the type of the eternal Son of God, the ‘Lord’s Christ.’ Then, as successive kings of David’s line failed to realise their high destiny, men were taught to look for the coming of One who should fulfil the Divine words of promise, giving them a meaning and a reality beyond hope and imagination. See Introd. p. lxxvi ff.
This Psalm then is typical and prophetic of the rebellion of the kingdoms of the world against the kingdom of Christ, and of the final triumph of the kingdom of Christ. To Him all nations are given for an inheritance; if they will not submit He must judge them. This typical meaning does not however exclude (as some commentators think), but rather requires, a historic foundation for the Psalm.
The references to this Psalm in the N.T. should be carefully examined.
(2) Psa 2:7 was quoted by St Paul at Antioch (Act 13:33) as fulfilled in the Resurrection of Christ (cp. Rom 1:4): and in the Epistle to the Hebrews the words are cited (the Messianic reference of the Psalm being evidently generally admitted) to describe the superiority of the Son to angels (Psa 1:5): and as a declaration of the Divine sonship of Christ, in connexion with the proof of the Divine origin of His high-priesthood (Psa 5:5). 
 In D and cognate authorities the words, “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” are substituted for “Thou art my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased,” in Luk 3:22. This was also the reading of the Ebionite Gospel.
(4) Its language is repeatedly borrowed in the Revelation, the great epic of the conflict and triumph of Christ’s kingdom. He ‘rules the nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev 12:5; Rev 19:15); and delegates the same power to His servants (Rev 2:26-27). ‘Kings of the earth’ occurs no less than nine times in this book (Psa 1:5, &c). ‘He that sitteth in the heavens’ is the central figure there (Psa 4:2 and frequently).
These quotations sufficiently explain the choice of the Psalm as one of the Proper Psalms for Easter Day.
In a few Heb. MSS. the Second Psalm is reckoned as the First, the First being treated as an independent prologue to the whole book; in a few other MSS. the two are united. Origen says that this was the case in one of two copies he had seen ( Op. ii. 537): and there was an ancient Jewish saying, “The first Psalm begins with blessing (Psa 1:1), and ends with blessing” (Psa 2:12). Some recensions of the LXX appear to have followed this arrangement, though Origen speaks as if all the Greek copies with which he was acquainted divided the two Psalms. Justin Martyr in his Apology (i. 40) cites Psalms 1, 2 as a continuous prophecy, and in Act 13:33 D and cognate authorities representing the ‘Western’ text, read, ‘in the first Psalm.’
But though there are points of contact in phraseology ( blessed, Psa 1:1, Psa 2:12; meditate, Psa 1:2, Psa 2:1; perish connected with way, Psa 1:6; Psa 2:12); they are clearly distinct in style and character. Psalms 1 is the calm expression of a general truth; Psalms 2 springs out of a special occasion; it is full of movement, and has a correspondingly vigorous rhythm. Probably the absence of a title to Psalms 2 (contrary to the usual practice of Book I) accounts for its having been joined to Psalms 1.
The Psalm is dramatic in form. The scene changes. Different persons are introduced as speakers. Its structure is definite and artistic. It consists of four stanzas, each (except the second) of seven lines.
i. The poet contemplates with astonishment the tumult of the nations, mustering with the vain idea of revolt from their allegiance (Psa 2:1-3).
ii. But looking from earth to heaven he beholds Jehovah enthroned in majesty. He mocks their puny efforts. He has but to speak, and they are paralysed (Psa 2:4-6).
iii. The king speaks, and recites the solemn decree by which Jehovah has adopted him for His son, and given him the nations for is inheritance, with authority to subdue all opposition (Psa 2:7-9).
iv. The poet concludes with an exhortation to the nations to yield willing submission, instead of resisting to their own destruction (Psa 2:10-12).
Consult other comments:
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".