Originally published in Issue #33 on November 12, 2021
While studying the Book of Hebrews, we will encounter many quotes from Old Testament passages. Usually, these quotes are between one and three verses, but the author seems to expect that the reader knows and understands the context of the passage. Knowing the Old Testament context can fill in important details. And, they’re often just really interesting.
So occasionally we are going to step out of Hebrews and look at the context of a quote. Our first comes from Hebrews 1:5, which is pulled from Psalm 2:7.
The Psalm is anonymous, though in Acts 4:25 it’s ascribed to David.
It has four movements. The Psalm writes of the futility and stupidity of rebelling against God. But not just God, also his Misyah (Messiah) — his anointed one, a king who is also God’s son.
Many are anointed (someone or something chosen and set apart for an important role). Priests, such as Aaron, are anointed (Numbers 3:3), kings, such as David, are anointed (1 Samuel 16:13). The Psalm looks back on God making this chosen one his king and the futility of rebellion.
Movement 1: Humans Rebel
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.”
— Psalms 2:1-3 (ESV)
In the first movement, we see humans who rebel against YHWH and his anointed. They “plot” against God. This is the same Hebrew word from Psalm 1:2. The righteous person “murmurs” about God’s law, while the unrighteous “murmurs” about how to dethrone God.
From the earliest part of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have been waiting for a human child who will crush the snake (Genesis 3:15), who will speak for God like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) and will be a king in the line of David. In other words, we have seen many “anointed,” people who are called by God to fulfill a purpose. But, we are awaiting “The Anointed” who will be the pinnacle of God’s purposes on earth in one human.
The word “anointed” here in verse 2 is Misyah, or messiah. That’s why Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, which just means “anointed person.” They were looking for the ultimate king, prophet, snake crusher. We will find out more about this anointed as the Psalm progresses. There’s no way to tell yet if this is “an anointed” or “the Anointed.”
This movement is quoted in Acts 4:25-28. The machinations of the Jewish and Roman leaders to crucify Jesus the Messiah are seen as a fulfillment of these verses. That may be confusing because there’s no explicit prophecy here! We’ll come back to that at the end because this is how Biblical prophecy and fulfillment works most of the time.
Movement 2: God Laughs
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.”
— Psalms 2:4-6 (ESV)
Now we find God’s response to rebellion. God has set his anointed one on Zion (another name for Jerusalem), the place of the Temple and where heaven meets earth.
The anointed one is also a king, placed by God into Jerusalem (Zion), God’s “holy hill.” God has brought his chosen into Jerusalem to make him king. God knows that nothing human rebellion can do can thwart his plans.
Movement 3: God’s Chosen Son Inherits All
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.”
— Psalms 2:7-9 (ESV)
The perspective shifts to God’s anointed. He now speaks. YHWH tells the anointed one as he is made king, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”
What does it mean to be “begotten?” In ordinary usage, it means to bear a child. Usually, that means reproduction. Some splinter groups of Christianity will say that Jesus, the anointed Son, was created (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Others will say that he is the literal progeny of God’s sex acts (Mormons). They look to verses like verse 7, applied to Jesus, as proof. This is absolutely not what is meant here. Texts without context are a pretext for a proof-text. Texts get their meaning from the context.
The lines before write of this son being made king of God’s chosen city, the city where God dwells. The lines after speak of the son being made the inheritor of all the earth. This anointed is being made the son. Today, as he is receiving rulership and inheritance of creation, he is begotten.
Here, being "begotten" cannot mean literal creation or reproduction. Begotten-ness, in this context, means something like “becoming the firstborn son and inheritor.” This king has become an inheritor of God’s promises through being adopted into sonship.
In the short term, this king is probably David, but we know that David didn’t rule all the earth. But David was promised that his line of kings would last forever (2 Samuel 7). Though David would not, one of his line will fulfill this prophecy. The writers of the Christian scriptures believe that descendent of David is Jesus (Hebrews 1:5, Acts 13:33). Jesus is the son who has become the inheritor of “the ends of the earth” through his life, death, and especially, his resurrection (Acts 13:33, Romans 1:4).
We do not yet see Jesus ruling all the nations, but it is now his by right. How do we see that kingdom come in its fullness? When we take the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth (Acts 13:47). One day, Jesus will return and rule (Revelation 12:5), and we shall rule with him (Revelation 2:27).
Movement 4: Accept the Chosen Son as King
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.
— Psalms 2:10-12 (ESV)
The rebels are now offered peace. This is an invitation to serve YHWH and his chosen son; those who do will find blessing.
We see that this son/king is greater than any king of the earth. They must pay homage to him, and they are guilty of wrongdoing if they do not. The words about the son’s anger or wrath may bring thoughts of a merciless despot whose anger leads him to kill on a whim. That could not be farther from the Biblical God or his chosen. God is a God of abundant mercy (Jonah 4:1-3). These words are spoken to rebellious and unrighteous rulers who have rejected God and are given another chance. These words evoke the seriousness of the warning, not capricious and unjust wrath. God desires that all would take refuge in him by trusting him and his chosen son so that all would be blessed.
This is another movement that cannot be seen only as finding fulfillment in David. I don’t think any mere human could fulfill it. This son is described as the place of refuge and the one who executes God’s wrath on the unrighteous and rebellious. Earthly kings may fulfill that in part, but God is spoken of as the one who we should find refuge in. True fulfillment requires a chosen king and son who is also truly God. That is what we find in Jesus.
This Is Prophecy
Prophecy is often seen as a simple formula. Someone predicts what will happen in the future, and that prediction is fulfilled. But that is rarely how the New Testament writers see the Old Testament. Psalm 2 defies a simple formula.
We don’t know the circumstances of the writing of this poem. Perhaps it was a time of intense revolt against God and his kingship. Perhaps David looked back on his coronation to remember that he was chosen by God and remember how foolish it is to oppose God.
But at the same time, this Psalm cannot completely fit David, nor any Israelite king. The author must also be looking forward to a future chosen king who will have the nations rage and plot but will rule the whole earth, not just Israel, on behalf of God. That is Jesus, born of a virgin from the line of David, crucified for our sins despite being innocent, and inheritor of all creation (Hebrews 1:4).
As we pray this Psalm, it poses a question to us. Are we going to kiss the son? Are we willing to submit to God? This poem tells us that we would be wise to do so, and we will find blessing. But submission is a hard word. It doesn’t come naturally. It doesn’t fit us easily. But this Psalm also tells us that the end is certain. The son will inherit and rule all the earth. Submission earned Jesus the Messiah an inheritance of rulership of all the earth. Submission to Jesus makes us co-heirs with him of the renewed heavens and earth (Romans 8:17). That’s a pretty good deal.