Our Father in Heaven,
we ask for you to guide our thoughts tonight as we meditate on these ancient words.
Our lives are often flooded with anxiety because our world seems flooded with chaos.
Give us ears to hear your heart of love beating through this poetry.
Teach us how to trust you and how to live under your kingship.
We give all that we are and all that we have to you.
And we pray all these things in the name of your Son, Jesus, who together with you and the Holy Spirit, rule and reign the universe, one God now and forever.
The week before Thanksgiving we took a brief glance at the first psalm.
We heard it insisting that the truly happy person—the person whose life is working out as it should—is the person who meditates on the law of the Lord, on Torah of Yahweh.
So the “Ashrei ha ish” (the truly happy person) is the one instructed by the story of the God who redeems and rescues his people.
Now Psalm 1 is Act 1 of two-part opening to the collection of psalms and songs and poems and prophecy that we call the book of Psalms—or the Psalter.
Tonight we’re going to be looking at Act 2.
So turn in your Bibles to Psalm 2.
Pastor-scholar Eugene Peterson says that these “two psalms are carefully set as an introduction: Psalm 1 is a laser concentration on the person, Psalm 2 is a wide-angle lens on politics.”
That’s a fascinating observation that bears repeating.
Roughly speaking, Psalm 1 is God’s relationship with us on personal level.
And again, roughly speaking, Psalm 2 is God’s relationship with the entire world.
Psalm 1 gets us thinking small, gets us thinking intimate, gets us thinking personal.
Psalm 2 gets us thinking big, gets us thinking global, gets us thinking political.
Peterson says, “We love Psalm 1 and [we] ignore Psalm 2.”
So I thought it might be worth thinking about this evening:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
THE MADNESS OF MANKIND (v1-3)
In the United States we have a complicated relationship with kings.
Maybe kings embody our deepest hopes and fears at the same time.
On the one hand, we’re quite taken with them—maybe even obsessed with them.
We’ll buy tabloids,
search the internet,
and interrupt our regularly scheduled programming
to try to catch a glimpse of a royal baby.
It was only five months ago, after all, that Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to tiny prince George—third in line to inherit the throne of England.
As a country, we joined in singing, “God Save the Queen.”
But on the other hand, we’re quite suspicious of them.
That crown of England is what we rebelled against a few hundred years ago.
Another George sat on England’s throne,
and we—as a people—broke his chains and threw of his shackles.
We wrote documents and built systems that would protect us from the terrible tyranny that a king could inflict upon us.
As a country—when it comes to monarchies—we usually shout, “Down with the king.”
Evidently this isn’t terribly unique to the U.S.
This psalm seems to indicate that every country and people-group and nation in the world has a tendency in the exact same direction—we all want to be our own masters.
We all want to be totally and completely free from all constraints.
To live independent of any authority or ruler.
To be totally self-sufficient.
To be like gods.
I think that’s always our temptation. It has been since the garden (Gen 3:5).
The first three verses of this psalm paints a picture for us. We’re invited to imagine the nations and city-states of the ancient world—which would have included everything from Sparta to Babylon—coming together in global conspiracy. They’re conspiring to rebel against the rule and reign of Yahweh and (v2) against his anointed.
They don’t see the instruction of Yahweh as something life-giving.
They see kingdom of God as a problem, as a constraint, as something to be thrown off.
And according to Psalm 1, this couldn’t be more wrong.
There obeying and following God is life itself—it makes you like a well-watered tree.
And so the take away is to meditate on his instruction.
Here the same Hebrew word translated “meditate” in Psalm 1 is used again here.
It’s a word of quiet whispering.
This time it’s a word of conspiracy and it’s translated “plot.”
So we’ve got a different kind of meditation now.
A meditation—a plotting—that is hell-bent on overthrowing Yahweh, the God of Israel, the creator of the universe, the Giver-of-all-life.
Think about that for a second.
They’re plotting to rebel against Life itself.
They want to overthrow the Source of all meaning in the universe.
They want to establish themselves the center of their reality.
They’re meditating on madness.
Because the world becomes chaos at this point.
If you rebel against the Creator, you don’t become a ruler.
The world is still ruled by something.
You just become a pawn of something else.
Over the last two centuries in particular, plenty of brilliant philosophers have tried to decide what it is that rules the world:
A man named Freud says we’re ruled by suppressed appetite and instinct.
A guy named Marx says we’re ruled by class warfare and economics.
Another fellow, Nietzsche, says we’re ruled by repressed violence and power struggles.
The nations here want to rebel against the Creator thinking they’ll be free. I bet they’d be frustrated to know that—according to 19th and 20th century philosophy—they’re still going to enslaved to the mysterious and cosmic forces of sex, money and power.
And if our world is just being blown blindly about by sex, money and power,
then all of human existence is absolute chaos.
At the bottom of things, history is meaningless.
And so are our lives.
THE LAUGHTER OF HEAVEN (v4-9)
But then we hear the most surprising sound coming from heaven in verse 4:
Yahweh—the One in Heaven—is laughing at them.
That’s comforting on some level, right?
Because we typically don’t find laughter and fear in the same place.
When we’re nervous or anxious or worried,
our first instinct isn’t a great big belly laugh.
It’s kind of comforting to know that God’s reaction isn’t nervousness or anxiety—
“Oh no… these nations are conspiring together against me… they’re going to throw the world into chaos… what will I do?”
It’s a bit comforting to know that God gets a good laugh at those who think they could overthrow his kingdom. But as verse 4 moves into verse 5, I don’t know about you, but I get a little concerned:
Yahweh is laughing, but this is no joke.
God is angry.
He’s got to chuckle—but he’s also got chastise.
For me, there’s always something really nerve-racking about God’s nostrils flaring.
Maybe this will help:
Imagine a three-year-old who not only defiantly refuses to obey her parents but also explains her elaborate plans
to throw out her parents out on the street,
to take over the house and paint it pink,
to drive herself to the grocery store,
to cook her all her own meals (mostly chocolate and lemonade),
and to start her own small business (selling the lemonade).
A good parent isn’t nervous—isn’t wringing their hands. A good parent probably gets a good laugh out of this three-year-old’s elaborate and absolutely absurd plan to overthrow the household kingdom.
But if she’s single-minded and stubborn and serious about this plan, a good parent has also got to do something. In the language of the psalm, they’ve got to have some wrath.
This child is not only willfully defying the reality of her situation
(honestly, how is she going to drive the car to Safeway?)
but she’s also willfully defying her parents’ loving instruction.
The absurd rebellion of a three-year-old is going to make mom and dad angry.
Not because they’re devoid of love, but precisely because they’re filled with love.
Children have to be corrected—and nations are no different.
And God is better than the best parent.
The nations are rebelling and need to be brought back to reality (for their own good!).
And the long-standing expectation through Israel’s long history was that their God would eventually shatter this rebellion (like pottery) and would lead the world back into the reality of his rule and reign.
And he would do this through a king of Israel—through an anointed one.
Now, there were plenty of kings of Israel.
In fact, the ancient words of this psalm were probably read over lots of Israel’s kings over the centuries. This was probably used in the coronation of Israel’s kings—the day when Yahweh announced over them their royal status as his adopted son. None of these kings ever succeeded in bringing the nations back to God but—as the next descendant of David ascended to the throne—that didn’t stop these promises from being read.
The promise was that there would come a king who would make all things new.
Listen to how the prophet Isaiah (chapter 11) talks about a coming king:
[This king] will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
[This king] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Wow. That sounds great.
That sounds like the opposite of chaos reigning.
That sounds like the world as it should be.
The prophet Isaiah is doing the opposite of meditating on madness.
He’s anticipating the day when truth and beauty and justice finally come to the world.
And Yahweh he saw that this day would come through an anointed one.
Through a king who would embody all of our hopes and none of our fears.
In fact this king would banish all our fears.
They whispered and waited for this coming messiah.
And after Alexander the Great threw off every shackle and conquered the world,
Israel continued to wait and whisper (this time in Greek) about this coming christos.
This coming Christ.
This coming king.
THE BEDROCK OF HISTORY (v10-12)
Turn to Acts 4.
The whispering and raging and rebelling and waiting continued until Rome ruled the world. Then—suddenly and inexplicably—a group within Israel began saying that it had actually happened.
(v23) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
Now listen to their prayer:
“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’ (19)
(v27) Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
The earliest Christians read this psalm and said,
“We’ve finally seen the anointed one—seen the true king.
We watched the conspiracy kill him and nail him to a cross.
The nations were meditating on madness
but God was always a step ahead.
He has this master plan, you see,
a plan that uses even conspiracies and crosses and chaos,
and his master plan… is to heal.
They would say Freud, Marx and Nietzsche got it wrong.
The world isn’t simply blindly blown around
by the chaotic forces sex, money and power.
History isn’t meaningless.
Our lives aren’t meaningless.
According to the earliest Christians, this world—from top to bottom—is being reclaimed, reordered and renewed by sacrificial, self-giving love.
The bedrock of history is not chaos.
The bedrock of history isn’t the raw biology of sexual instinct
or the desperate scramble for limited resources
or the brutal rat race for influence and control and power.
The bedrock of history is the sacrificial, self-giving love of God.
And that’s good news because it means beneath all of
the chaos and conspiracies and madness around us
beneath all of it is the self-giving love of God.
The bedrock of the world you live in is the sacrificial, self-giving love of God.
And precisely because of that, we’re invited to finish this psalm.
We’re invited to kiss the Son—to kiss our Lord sincerely.
Don’t be confused when v12 says that his anger has “can flare up in a moment.” That doesn’t mean that God is some kind of grumpy grandpa who lashes out at the slightest offense. The wording here probably means that his anger (and his corrective discipline) could come at any moment—it’s long overdue for these conspiring nations.
It’s like the image of a parent at the breaking point by the end of this psalm.
But in case we’re ever tempted to forget the depths of the love of our Father in heaven,
we need to allow the reality of some of David’s other songs to sink in.
Songs like Psalm 30: “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.”
We’re all invited to love because we are already loved. (1 Jn 4:19)
Because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
That’s why Psalm 2 ends with such strong language.
We’re given a serious warning. And a serious invitation.
To abandon other ways. Our ways.
Our paths of madness that end in detachment and despair and death.
God doesn’t want any of us continue defiantly down the the path of destruction.
God invites us to find refuge and beauty and healing and truth and life in him.
And as our world does that,
wherever and whenever our world chooses to kiss God
and embody his sacrificial, self-giving love,
our world will find itself blessed,
will itself ashrei,
will find itself truly happy.