Psalm 2 Arrangement

7 Tips for Interpreting Psalm 2 (and Uncovering its Hope)

Psalm 2 addresses the reality that those who want to live according to God’s word dwell among those who don’t. Some people rebel against the laws God gives to protect and bless us, and their rebellion causes suffering.

Our newspapers display the evidence daily. Terrorists murder and maim. Con artists bilk the elderly. The rich exploit the poor. Abusers scar children. Liars lock the innocent behind bars. Each of us has our own stories of wrongs perpetrated against us and our loved ones. And we know in our hearts we’ve hurt others.

When discouragement starts settling in my heart over all the icky things of this world, I turn to Psalm 2. There I find the hope of King Jesus’ return to bring all who trust in him into his kingdom forever. Sin, temptation, and anyone who rejects Jesus’ rule cannot pass its gates.

But Psalm 2 presents a few challenges on a first read-through. So here are seven tips for interpreting Psalm 2.

Tip 1: Read the Entire Psalm

Psalm 2 text

Figure 1: Psalm 2

First we need to get the big picture by reading the whole psalm at least once through. Figure 1 shows Psalm 2 with the background color changing at stanza breaks. (Click Figure 1 to open in a new tab.)

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament historical books, you’ll recognize that it’s about kings descended from King David. If you’re familiar with the New Testament’s teachings about Jesus, you’ll realize it’s also about one particular King: Jesus.

Tip 2: Identify Psalm 2’s Type

We call psalms about kings descended from David royal psalms. This one declares that God gave David’s descendants authority to rule. That makes it perfect for coronations, which was its main use for four centuries.

The New Testament applies Psalm 2 to Jesus, a descendant of David through Mary (Revelation 19:13-16). Since the psalm foretells the crowning of Jesus the Anointed One (“Messiah”), it is also a messianic psalm.

Tip 3: Look Up Unfamiliar Terms

If there are any unfamiliar words or historical references, check those out next. A study Bible with cross-references helps. My book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms, covers Psalm 2’s background in detail, showing how it applied to Solomon and his rebellious brother, to Jesus and the plotting Jewish and Gentile leaders, and to Jesus in the kingdom of heaven. So here, I’ll just briefly explain a few terms.

  • Decree: Psalm 2:7 begins, “I will tell of the decree,” and the stanza following summarizes the decree poetically. What it’s talking about is God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:5-16. God decreed that King David would have a dynasty in which his “throne shall be established forever,” beginning with his son Solomon (2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Chronicles 28:6).
  • Anointed: As part of the coronation ceremony, a priest and/or prophet anointed the new king with oil, so he was called the “Lord’s anointed.” Messiah comes from the Hebrew for “anointed one” and Christ comes from the Greek for it. God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).
  • Zion: The Davidic kings ruled from Jerusalem on Mount Zion. When applied to Jesus, Zion refers to the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
  • Son: In 2 Samuel 7:14, God decreed that he would be a father to all the kings descended from David, and they would be his sons. Some translations don’t capitalize “son” so readers catch this reference. Others capitalize “Son” to make sure readers see it also applies to Jesus, who descended from David through Mary and was also the only begotten Son of God.
  • Kiss: “Kiss the Son” in verse 12 means submit to him as ruler. Think of the way people might bow and kiss Queen Elizabeth’s hand.
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Tip 4: Identify the Participants in Psalm 2

The first two verses name all the participants: the psalmist, the Lord, the Lord’s anointed king, and the people who rebel against the Lord and his king.

Tip 5: Identify the Arrangement of Psalm 2

This is something I didn’t have room to include in the chapter on Psalm 2 in Discovering Hope in the Psalms.

It helps to identify a psalm’s arrangement by looking for related elements. Psalm 2’s arrangement is straightforward. We can divide it into five stanzas by main speaker. The psalmist is the main speaker in the first stanza. God is the main speaker in the second stanza. The king being crowned speaks in the middle. The king quotes God in the fourth stanza, making God the main speaker there, too. The psalmist is again the main speaker in the last stanza. So this is the order of the main speakers:

Psalmist / God / New King / God / Psalmist

We call this layout (A B C B’ A’) a chiasm (pronounced “KEY-azm”). If we put each speaker on a separate line and indent related stanzas equally, we get this:

Psalmist

God

New King

God

Psalmist

See how that makes it easy to compare related parts? Figure 2 summarizes Psalm 2’s stanzas in this kind of layout. I added the addressees and summarized each speech for you. Notice how easy it is to see the message flow now.

Psalm 2 Arrangement

Figure 2: Psalm 2 Arrangement

Tip 6: Identify Links in Psalm 2

Psalm 2 Links

Figure 3: How the 4 participants view God, his King & rebels

Once we discover that a psalmist arranged a psalm in a chiasm, finding links becomes easy. In a chiastic psalm, the theme is in the center. Often, stanzas equal distance from the center are linked and share elements. That’s clearly the case in Psalm 2. Look back at Figure 2 above and compare stanzas equal distance from the center (I gave them the same background color to make comparison easier).

While Figure 2 shows the main links, this psalm has so many repeated elements that I put them in a chart to make them clearer. Figure 3 compares how each speaker views God, the King, and the rebels. (Since the psalmist quotes the rebels, I list them on a separate line for clarity. Click Figure 3 to open in a new tab.)

Tip 7: Look up How the New Testament Uses the Psalm

The New Testament quotes Psalm 2 quite a bit. For example, Acts 4:24-25 says the Lord spoke this psalm through the mouth of David by the Holy Spirit. Acts 4:25-27 and 13:33 say Jesus’ crucifixion was a plot to reject Jesus’ rule, but it was in vain because God raised Jesus from the dead. Revelation 12 symbolically describes Satan initiating this plot. Revelation 19 depicts Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords in the same words as Psalm 2, and the next three chapters describe how he ends all rebellion and takes his throne in the new heavens and earth.

So how does this psalm bring me hope when I see the world has run amok? It reminds me that Jesus denies entrance into his kingdom to the unrepentant terrorists, con artists, oppressors, abusers, and liars. Their place is the lake of fire, and they can’t harm God’s children ever again. He’s resurrecting the repentant sinners into bodies that have never sinned and have never been sinned against. He’s rewarding us for all that we did of eternal worth, for no one can take from us anything of eternal value from us. He’s bringing us into his kingdom, where there will be no more mourning or sin or death. We’ll live with him forever.

This world is but a stepping stone to eternity. The kingdom of God awaits. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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If you’d like to learn more about Psalm 2, including how its message worked out in Solomon’s coronation, Jesus’ life on this earth, and in the end times, see Discovering Hope in the Psalms or click the Amazon affiliate link below (Harvest House, 2017).

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