The Messianic Psalms
Dr. John Boyd is a Specialist in Medicine. He practises in Belfast, Ireland. In spite of his many duties, he makes time for precise biblical studies. We always appreciate articles from him. His present contribution on the Messianic Psalms is excellent. This is the first in the series.
God’s King, Psalm 2
The Messianic Psalms are those which concern themselves mainly with a prophetic presentation of Israel’s coming Messiah. Citations from the Psalms used of Christ in the New Testament are often the clue to a Messianic interpretation.
“Messiah” is the transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning the Christ, the anointed One (John 1:41). The Hebrew equivalent is “Mashiah” —the anointed One. This is a word used of Abraham, as chosen of God (Ps. 105:15), of Cyrus, as commissioned by God (Isa. 45:1), and of the Old Testament priests on whom God’s holy anointing oil had been poured (Lev. 8:30). The term was also applied to those kings who were anointed to rule over Israel (2 Sam.1:14), and in an especial way to David, and to his seed for ever (Ps. 18:50). After David’s reign Israel looked for one of his descendants, whose kingdom would excel even David’s for glory and conquest. Thus the Old Testament expectation was of a Messiah coming in power and great glory to deliver Israel from her enemies (Jer. 23:5-6), to set up a glorious kingdom in Jerusalem, and to rule in righteousness over the whole world (Ps. 45:6-7).
This was Israel’s conception of Messiah at the time of the Lord’s first advent. But the Lord would teach them that it behoved the Christ, the anointed One, to suffer first and then to reign (Luke 24:26). Thus the Messianic Psalms deal with both the Lord’s first and second advents. There are some fourteen of these Psalms, giving many different presentations of the Messiah. In them Christ is seen in His pre-incarnate glory (Ps. 2:7), His power as Man over creation (Ps. 8:4-6, Heb. 2:6-8), His reproach by men (Ps. 69), His ascension (Ps. 110:1, Heb. 1:13), His future advent in glory (Ps. 24:7), His mighty conquest (Ps. 2:10), His glorious reign (Ps. 45:6). These Psalms also portray the inmost soul of Christ in His relation to His Father (Ps. 40:8), and in His experience of physical sufferings (Ps. 22). The following are listed as Messianic Psalms (2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 40, 41, 45, 69, 72, 89, 110, 118). Let us consider the first of these, Psalm 2.
The historic occasion that prompted David to write this Psalm was probably that described in 2 Samuel 10:6 when the Ammonites hired sundry other nations and kings to join with them against Israel. But the Lord’s disciples, though acknowledging David as the writer of the Psalm, recognized it as applying to the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s anointed (Acts 4:25-26). They even quoted the number of the Psalm, and referred it to Jesus (Acts 13:33). Further citations from the Psalm in the New Testament point to its Messianic character (Heb. 1:5, 5:5, Rev. 12:5, 19:15). The two last references indicate the Psalm’s prophetic setting - when the Lord will come to overthrow the nations, and set up His Millennial Kingdom.
The Psalm is divided into four stanzas of three verses each: (1) vv. 1-3, The Revolt against God; (2) vv. 4-6, God’s Reaction to the Revolt; (3) vv. 7-9, God’s Decree concerning the Messiah; (4) vv. 10-12, The Psalmist’s Wise Advice. Let us examine these stanzas.
Stanza 1 - Verses 1-3
The Revolt Against God
David in astonishment asks why are the nations (R.V.) in a rage (v. 1). They are all one in their tumultuous assembly, imagining or plotting what was vain, profitless, unlikely to succeed—a rebellion, as the rest of the Psalm indicates. This rebellion had a partial fulfilment in Acts 4:25, has been going on since Pentecost, and will be consummated before the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:14-16, 19:15).
The confederacy is described. The kings and rulers lead the people in the rebellion (v. 2). All unite together against God and against His anointed—first David (2 Samuel 10:17), and then the Lord, as He comes in a future day to deliver Israel from the oppression of all the nations round about.
The determination of the nations has in view the throwing off of God’s yoke (v. 3), and the setting aside of Messiah’s rule over the whole world, “from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10).
Stanza 2 - Verses 4-6
God’s Reaction to the Revolt
God looks down from Heaven on all this. He sees and knows the outcome of the rebellion. He can afford to laugh in contempt at men’s puny efforts, and mock at their discomfiture (v. 4).
“Then” (v. 5), indicates the time of the outpouring of God’s wrath—when the nation’s opposition is at its peak as they surround Jerusalem in their final attempt to blot out the name of God (Zech. 14:2-3). It will be the day of the Lord’s return to earth. God’s wrath will be poured out without measure upon His enemies. He will sore trouble them in His burning anger (Zech. 12:2-4).
God speaks and unfolds His purpose. Messiah is God’s king, the long-awaited anointed One. He will be established on Mount Zion as King; this is the hill of God’s holiness, His dwelling-place (v. 6); this will be the centre of Messiah’s government, whence He will rule over all the earth, despite the raging opposition of nations.
Stanza 3 — Verses 7-9
God’s Decree Concerning the Messiah
Messiah is the speaker here. He tells of God’s decree concerning His appointment, His being set as King in Zion (v. 7). He points first to God’s commission, “The Lord said unto Me.” Thus His authority came from God. The King then mentions Jehovah’s acknowledgment of Him as the Son of God. Acts 13:33 (R. V.) indicates that this revelation was associated with His incarnation, not with His resurrection as the Authorized Version implies. It was prior to Matthew 3:17, and refers to that time in eternity when in the counsels of the Godhead the Son had offered Himself for the work of redemption. “This day” applies to the day of His being sent into the world.
When Messiah was commissioned, He was given a promise. On request, God would give Him the nations for an inheritance (v. 8). All belong to God, and to Christ will they all be given. The whole earth constitutes Messiah’s dominion (Ps. 72:8). This verse points forward to the time when He will come to claim His inheritance, when He comes again to earth, this time in power and great glory. “I will tell of the decree” (v. 7) suggests that He has asked for His inheritance.
The Messiah will conquer these nations (v. 9) and will rule over them. The “rod of iron” is here the symbol of conquest (cf. sceptre, same Hebrew word, Num. 24:17), and of rule (Amos 1:8, Rev. 2:27, 19:15). It suggests inflexible justice and autocratic despotism. Thus will He break, or overthrow, those nations that have spoken against Him (v. 3). Dashing them in pieces reminds us of Daniel 2:34-35, where the stone cut out without hands will smite and break into pieces the iron and clay feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. This is another portrayal of the coming overthrow of the ten-powered confederacy in the day of the Lord’s second advent (Rev. 17:12-14).
Stanza 4 — Verses 10-12
The Psalmist’s Wise Advice
Following on the prophetic outline of future events in the earlier verses, the Psalmist in verse 10 advises the kings and rulers as to their relationships with God and with His Messiah. Possibly the admonition here is not addressed solely to those nations who will oppose the Messiah in a coming day, but to all rulers of all times as to their preparation for a coming day of judgment. Let them learn the lesson of the Psalm, and take warning that opposition to God and to His Christ is foolishness.
The Psalmist first deals with their attitude towards God. Let them learn so to fear the majesty and judgment of God as to serve Him rather than oppose His interests (v. 11). Let their exultation at being permitted to serve God be marked by trembling — the visible effects of fearing Him (Heb. 12:28-29).
In second place, the attitude they should show towards Messiah, God’s Anointed, is set forth. They should kiss (v. 12), do homage to Him, acknowledge His authority (1 Sam. 10:1). Kings should do this rather than take counsel against Him (v. 2), let His anger be experienced (v. 9), and they perish in (R.V.) the way of their rebellion. This is incumbent on them, for Messiah’s wrath may soon be kindled (R. V. marg.).
Finally the Psalmist draws his conclusion. Those who would be truly blessed, happy (R. V. marg.), are those who instead of risking the outpouring of Messiah’s wrath flee to Him for refuge and lean hard upon Him.
As a practical application of this Psalm let not men today associate themselves with those who despise God and His dominion, and feel His demands on their life irksome. God has made His Son to sit down on the right hand of the Majesty on High, where He is waiting until His enemies be made His footstool. When He comes again to rule with a rod of iron, the saints will be associated with Him in that reign. Those who have paid their homage to God’s Son by putting their faith in Him have manifested wisdom, and have obviated the coming wrath of Him who will be vindicated in that coming day because of the despicable treatment He received from men at His first advent. How truly blessed are those who have put their trust in Christ!
This earth, the scene of all His woe,
A homeless wild to Thee,
Full soon upon His righteous throne,
Its rightful King shall see.
Thou shalt reign! He will not wear
His crown of joy alone;
And earth His royal bride shall see
Beside Him on the throne.