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O Rulers of the Earth


Psalm 2
February 16, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts at 13:50 in the audio file.



Or, The Politics of Worship

In 1971 Coca-Cola ran a 60 second commercial with a jingle that became so popular that two singing groups recorded their own full length versions later in the same year without the Coke references. I wasn’t even born until 1974 and I remember the song. Once you get it in your head, watch your head.

I’d like to build a world a home
and furnish it with love.
Grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves.

I’d like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony.
I’d like to hold it in my arms,
and keep it company

I’d like to see the world for once
all standing hand in hand.
And hear them echo through the hills
for peace throughout the land.

It’s the real thing
what the world wants today,
That’s the way it’ll stay
with the real thing.

See all the lyrics here.

The commercial had a multicultural choir of teenagers singing on a sunny afternoon on top of a picturesque hillside. The message invites everyone, except hardened cynics (and Pepsi drinkers), to dream about what the world could be, to envision the peace and harmony we could all enjoy.

Coke’s advertisers were not creating categories for consumers, they were trying to fill the categories. Coke did not teach people that the world singing in perfect harmony would be a good thing. Ad agencies and beauty pageant contestants didn’t invent the idea of world peace. The vision is built-in to all of us. We come pre-packaged with that desire.

Of course fizzy sugar water doesn’t have enough bubbles to get us to stand together hand in hand. Coke is not the answer to world peace because Coke can’t save anyone. There is a Savior, though. He is God’s Son, and He has a song. I’d like to teach the world a song and, if I could choose just one, Psalm 2 might be it.

Here is one more Boom! message on worship for this round, a message that is also related to the politics seminar this afternoon, then I’ll be back to Revelation next Sunday. I originally preached Psalm 2 almost seven years ago, and it’s good. Politics is from polis, city, “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Power is given by God (see John 19:11; Romans 13:1), and so we cannot really separate politics from worship, as we’ll see in this song.

Like Psalm 1, Psalm 2 sits in a special place in the Psalter. In fact, based on early manuscripts of Acts 13:33 that quoted verse 7 as being in the “first psalm,” Psalms 1 and 2 were seen as one song, starting in 1:1 with “blessed” and ending in 2:12 with “blessed.” Though they are split in our copies, Psalm 2 clearly provides another entrance into the entire Book. If Psalm 1 stresses the goodness of singing the Scriptures, Psalm 2 stresses the goodness of singing the Son. Psalm 1 makes men wise and fruitful who delight in the law of Yahweh. Psalm 2 makes men wise and joyful who submit to the rule of Yahweh’s anointed.

A thick thread in the pattern of the Psalms concerns the kings of Israel. Every song in Book 1 (of 5), from 1-41, has a heading that mentions King David except 1, 2, 10 and 33. In the latter two songs, however, there is good evidence that each one is part of the preceding Psalm (9 and 32). In other words, every psalm in Book 1 is Davidic except for 1 and 2. But in the latter divisions of Psalms, problems come as Israel goes into exile. There is no king. How can God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:4-16 be fulfilled?

As the Psalter progresses the songs address this problem by recognizing David and Solomon and later kings as early types of the King, Jesus Christ. Psalm 2 prepares us with that very expectation. The New Testament writers understood Psalm 2 as a reference to Jesus and quoted it more than any other Psalm. Though we don’t know when the final arrangement of the 150 was made, the editors clearly saw that the fulfillment of Psalm 2 had not yet happened.

This is really important. Whoever wrote Psalm 2, whoever put Psalm 2 in this place, put HOPE in the Son’s reign as the a banner over ALL the other songs! While we anticipate the personal blessings of present fruitfulness in the world according to Psalm 1, so we anticipate the global blessing in the future rule of the Messiah over all the world as Psalm 2 describes. He will bring peace among men. This is His Royal Song in four stanzas.

Resistance Is Futile (verses 1-3)

Even though there is only one Savior, one Ruler who will bring world peace, not everyone immediately joins hands and sings His praises. These verses draw lines that explain world events.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
(Psalm 2:1–3)

The psalmist starts with flabbergastion on behalf of the nations. His question of Why governs each line and could be repeated four times: “Why do the nations rage, why do the peoples plot in vain, why do the kings set themselves and why do the rulers take counsel together?”

The nations are larger political groups with recognizable geographical boundaries and the peoples are smaller ethnic and social groups living within the national borders. Taken together they refer to both big government and local tribes. There are countries and communities who rage against and plot to overthrow the ruler. Plot (“devising” NASB, “imagine” KJV) is the same word as “meditate” in 1:2; they murmur mutiny under their breath. But they do it in vain. There’s no hope for their coup.

Rebellion is always personal and the second line represents the groups by their leaders: kings and rulers. They get together at UN meetings and city town halls to take counsel together against Yahweh and against his anointed. They make proposals and motions and filibusters and it sounds like: ”Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords form us.” Politics principle #1: Every political move is about domination. Everyone wants to be lord.

The Israel-centricity stands out. Yahweh, the covenant name of the LORD for the Jews and His Anointed, His King, have charge over everyone. “Messiah” is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for “Anointed” and “Christ” is the Greek translation. Yahweh may be the special God of one nation, but He is not a local or tribal deity. He created all and rules over all. Likewise, His Anointed–who we’ll hear from in verses 7-9–rules on Yahweh’s behalf.

The freedom of Yahweh is too constricting for the rebels. They find His reign too narrow. So they make back room plans to fight Him.

A Terrifying Appointment (verses 4-6)

The psalmist moves from describing the rebellious insubordination on earth to describing the response in heaven.

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.?”
(Psalm 2:4–6)

In anthropomorphic terms, all the schemes and confederate riots are no skin off God’s back. Put all the nations together, let them pick an all-star team of generals and emperors and SEAL teams and battalions, and taken all together they are like a drop in a bucket to God (Isaiah 40:15). When that drop gets its surface tension in a knot, as if it could actually do something to the one holding the bucket upside down and smacking the bottom, the bucket holder may get a good laugh out of it. So does God. “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).

He who sits in the heavens laughs. Where is God sitting? He’s sitting on His throne! He is Creator King; He simply trumps all other competitors because He made them and gives them breath. He laughs at their rage, not because their rebellion is funny, but because the fact that they talk like they could actually do something to defeat God is funny. Their revolt is ridiculous, from the Latin word ridiculus = laughable.

That the Lord, Adonai, the actual Lord, holds them in derision means that He holds them in contemptuous mockery. He lets them go on for sake of His own laughter; and everyone with eyes to see will watch the train-wreck. John Calvin put it this way:

[W]hen God permits the reign of his Son to be troubled, he does not cease from interfering because he is employed elsewhere, or unable to afford assistance, or because he is neglectful of the honour of his Son; but he purposely delays the inflictions of his wrath to the proper time, namely, until he has exposed their infatuated rage to general derision.

It’s no laughing matter when Yahweh addresses them. Talk was easy when they didn’t think He could hear them, but they are out of their league. Now they hear Him speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury. What about His message threatens the nations? What causes these rulers so much terror? They are out of work.

As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. We don’t have record of any of Israel’s kings being crowned on Zion, a hill to the southwest of Jerusalem that later came to be associated with Jerusalem itself. That adds more evidence to understanding Psalm 2 prophetically. The worst thing that could happen to these guys is for this King to show up. Their days are numbered.

All the Kings’ Men Won’t Be Put Together Again (verses 7-9)

Now the anointed King Himself speaks.

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:7–9)

The King is not acting on His own initiative or authority. He does nothing outside the orders, the decree given to Him. Yahweh said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” I know that some of the kings of Israel had this sort of “son” language applied to them, but none in this context of begottenness or attached to the grand promise in verses 8-9. Multiple New Testament writers understand this Son to be the only-begotten Son, Jesus, more reason to believe that the psalm was written prophetically from the start.

To say that the Son was begotten today does not mean that He wasn’t always around, that He didn’t exist prior to this point. It means that He was recognized as having the same nature as Yahweh.

Yahweh offers Him the world, literally. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. Israel hasn’t yet enjoyed a single day occupying all of the land promised to them, let alone this. In the future, the Son will reign over nations; they are His destiny. He does not remove their distinctions. There will still be Canadians and Germans and Jamaicans and others. They will maintain a type of political identity, but they will all be the possession of the King.

Maybe a more important question than why do the nations rage is why does He wants them/us? We are a miserable group with our run down projects and broken systems and weak people. We are a mess and we are not making it better, even when we do make certain things better. Coke is better than malaria water or streams running through the city with refuse to drink from, but Coke still cannot save us.

It isn’t only that we are miserable and weak, by nature we are in resistance to the Savior. But He has full warrant to use force. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters’s vessel. (See also Revelation 2:26-27). Their hearts are hard and but their battle-ability is like fragile pottery. There is no recovery from His rod of iron. They won’t be put back together once the shell has been cracked.

A Word to Be Wise (verses 10-12)

The psalmist is back and the final verse urges action. There is hope for the the nations if they submit.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:10–12)

The kings and rulers are back from verse 2 and, again, they represent the people. Everyone needs to deal with this King.

Serve, rejoice, and kiss. Those are the three imperatives, each with qualifiers added. Serve Yahweh with fear. Give up following your own pursuits and do it reverently. Rejoice with trembling. You won’t find reason to be joyful anywhere but in His service, and His service is no plaything.

And Kiss the Son. Kiss is a word word homage. It isn’t just a kiss on the cheek, it’s probably a kiss on the feet as a sign of humble submission. Get on your knees and honor Him. There’s a reason: lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. This supplies a different take to: it only takes a spark….

Finally, Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Serve Him, rejoice before Him, kiss Him, and trust Him. Refuge is a constant refrain in the Psalms. It implies that we need help, that we are in trouble. It also means that He is the salvation, protection, safety we need. He doesn’t get irritated that we need help, He blesses.

We could summarize this final stanza: Worship the Lord!

Conclusion

If I had only one song to teach the world, Psalm 2 would be my choice (at least at this point). It doesn’t mention the cross or the resurrection, true, but the Savior and King is the same person, the same chosen and anointed Son. This song reveals the problem: rebellion against the Lord. This song reveals the answer: submission to God’s Son. Psalm 2 also reveals the future as we look forward to the Son’s certain reign.

The nations continue to rage against Yahweh but they are invited to be wise, to submit to Him, and find rejoicing in Him. I’ve often struggled on Tuesdays when I pray for our President and Vice-President. I am better prepared now. President Trump, be wise and serve the LORD with fear.

It starts with us. What should we do? We should sing! Are we serving, rejoicing, kissing? Are we running to Him as our refuge? Do we find our hope for world peace in Him? Are we singing this song?


Charge

The sentences we use should be correct, our words giving honor to the Lord Jesus. And yet our words are not the only thing that please God. The benediction you are about to receive is blessing on your todo list for Jesus, blessing on your to—finish-by-faith list as well. By grace you are a living testimony for His glory. For the sake of His name, then, live it up.

Benediction:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, ESV)