Sep 24, 2012

Thinking About Psalm 2

While teaching recently on Psalm 2, I was struck with verse 8. But before I state what I found so interesting in this verse, let me step back and talk about the psalm for a moment.

Psalm 2 is typically classified as a royal psalm, that is, a psalm that focuses on the anointed king. There are three commonly identified criteria for royal psalms: “(1) refer to the ‘king,’ (2) mention the ‘anointed’ one as a noun or make use of the verb, and (3) they refer to David by name” (C. Hassell Bullock,
Encountering the Book of Psalms, Encountering Biblical Studies, ed. Eugene H. Merrill [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001], 178). Psalm 2 meets two of these three criteria (absent is David’s name). I would sum up the message of this royal psalm as rebellion against the Lord and His mediated rule through His Anointed King is doomed to fail because the Lord is sovereign and so the only appropriate response is not rebellion but subservience.

For many Christian interpreters, Psalm 2 is also either a messianic psalm or perhaps a psalm with messianic elements. Such a reading is consistent with the fact that the psalm is quoted four times (Acts 4:25–26; 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5) and alluded to fourteen times in the New Testament (according to the index in UBS4), most often in connection with Jesus the Messiah. The lion’s share of attention for this messianic connection is given to verse 7.

He said to me, “You are my Son;
     today I have become your Father.”

This focused attention is probably merited, but I was drawn to verse 8, where the Anointed King is quoting the Lord’s decree (see v. 7a).

“Ask of me,

     and I will make the nations your inheritance,

     the ends of the earth your possession.”

What interests me iss that many interpreters do not adequately explain how this psalm could be royal and not Messianic. Which Davidic descendent ever enjoyed this kind of dominion? Surely, Goldingay is incorrect in suggesting that “apparently an Israelite king never took up the invitation to ‘ask of me . . .’” (John Goldingay, Psalms, vol. Volume 1: Psalms 1:41, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 105). If this psalm was indeed part of some royal coronation ritual (as many interpreters suggest), then it seems quite unlikely that no king would have ever thought to actually take the Lord up on His offer and simply “ask.” The inconvenient truth of Israel’s history is that they have never enjoyed the kind of dominion alluded to in verse 8 under David or one of his descendants. One might suggest that perhaps some kings did ask, but they did not enjoy the promised dominion because they failed to meet certain conditions. Of course the problem with this explanation is that no conditions are actually stated other than to “ask.” Another solution might be that the promise is conveyed in hyperbolic poetry and thus perhaps Israel under David or Solomon did enjoy such hegemony. But this also seems unlikely, for even if the promise were poetic and hyperbolic, surely the “nations” and “the ends of the earth” would have been understood then, and should be understood now, as being more than even Solomon’s empire. For me then, I see verse 8 as finding its fulfillment in the coming kingdom of Jesus the Messiah.



Todd Bolen said...

Charles - good thoughts. The only way that this psalm can be read non-messianically is as an isolated text, separated from the mind-blowing promise to David in 2 Samuel 7, which itself is a development of Genesis 12 and before that Genesis 3. Then when you read Psalm 2 as part of the "book of Psalms," it is all the clearer. A non-messianic interpretation is the product of a higher-critical approach that denies the unity and inspiration of Scripture.

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks for your comments, Todd. I tried to make my case using commonly held critical assumptions about Psalm 2 being a royal psalm and one used in coronation rituals. My contention is that even if one accepts these assumptions, certain details in the text (e.g., v. 8) suggest that these assumptions alone are inadequate. You have added support to my interpretation by utilizing a canonical and theological reading, a reading to which I agree.