Psalms 2 – Brendan Knudson
Some thoughts on Psalm 2 – This day I have begotten…
To begin with, the entire psalm is composed with parallelism both synonymous (mostly) and antithetical, with the exception of one narrated line in the middle – “I will tell of the decree”. Here is the arrangement:
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
You will also notice that the psalm contains four stanzas, each consisting of three verses. The first and last stanza contain 4 parallels, while the middle two contain only three parallels.
Finally, there is a chiastic structure to the Psalm. The simplest way of considering the chiastic structure is this. Stanzas one and four deal with things on Earth, while stanzas two and three deal with things in Heaven. A more technical way of seeing the chiasm is this:
__A1-Heathen Rage (verse 1)
____A2-Acts of disobedience (verses 2 &3)
______B1-God Judges (verses 4 & 5)
_________B2-God Sets Son (verse 6)
_________B2′-Son quotes God (verse 7)
______B1′-Son Judges (verses 8 & 9)
__A1′-Heathen Learn (verse 10)
____A2′-Acts of Obedience (verses 11 & 12)
There are many linguistic connections and wordplays to substantiate this chiastic structure, for more information read ‘Chiastic Psalms: A Study in the Mechanics of Semitic Poetry in Psalms 1-50’ By Robert L. Alden in Journal of the Evangelical Society (JETS), Volume 17, pp. 11-28, with discussion of Psalm 2 on pages 14-15.
What we see then, from a linguistic structural analysis is that this royal coronation psalm speaks both of things on Earth and things in Heaven. This psalm was written by David (see Acts 4:25), and yet David, the first king of Judah, reaches backwards and upwards to establish the act of coronation in the past. It is true that the application must be “metaphorical” when applied to earthly kings, when it comes terms such as sonship or begetting. However, there are clear indications that the coronation of earthly kings is a shadow of a prior heavenly reality.
The central point of the psalm and the only narrative portion states, “I will tell of the decree”. This statement involves a repetition of a prior decree. In fact, according to the literary structure of the Psalm, this original decree takes place in Heaven, with that reality forming the basis for earthly coronations. Thus, a metaphorical application to Davidic kings as “sons” or “begotten” does not rule out a literal reality in Heaven. In fact, the Psalm appears to be arguing the Davidic metaphor on the very basis of a literal reality! The further you go back towards the beginning of the world, the more can be seen the importance of literal sonship, especially in the role of the firstborn. The firstborn took the role of heir to the family and priesthood. Only later did the role of the firstborn pass to such as the Levites or the Davidic line. At this time, the ideas of “son” “begotten” and “firstborn” became metaphoric, yet they were based on a prior reality.
The verb in the narrative sentence is the Hebrew sâphar (ספר) which means “tell, recount, declare. “In the Piel stem, the iterative concept, ‘recount,’ takes on the added idea of ‘tell,’ ‘declare,’ ‘show forth.'” In all the ways it is used in this form, it carries the idea of repeating or recounting something that has happened in the past.
“Birth” and “adoption” language when installing a vassal into office was common among ancient cultures. This demonstrates that as nations moved away from the God, they retained some of the echoes of realities from the past when all humanity was taught the truths of God by Noah. The idea of inheritance and appointment to kingly office by sonship is one of the core truths of almost all cultures before modern forms of government. This cements the idea of distant reality in the past (or in Eternity).
The New Testament quotation of an Old Testament passage does not always exhaust the meaning of the latter. That is, it is an assumption to think that how the New Testament applies an Old Testament quotation is the only way that it can be applied. If this were the case, we would have some trouble. For instance, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 as applying to Christ:
Matthew 2:14-15 – And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Hos 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
Now, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with this. However, if you continue reading in Hosea 11, and continue to apply the passage to Christ, it would have Christ sacrificing to Baals and idols, etc. In short, there are many different ways in which the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Very few of these ways if any, would be considered to exhaust the meaning of the Old Testament passage.
Let us look at the typological application. Quite often, we think of typology as merely involving an Old Testament passage which is given application in the New Testament. This oversimplistic view of typology robs the Scriptures of the vast veins of treasure. Let us take the example of the Passover. The truth of the Passover is not merely type-antitype. The Passover contains a commemorative event in the past (the first Passover in Egypt), a continuing practice (the yearly Passover ceremony), an initial antitype (Christ at Calvary), an continuing antitype (the application of the Blood of Christ to the doorposts of our hearts, etc) and a completed antitype (the passing over of the Angel of Death in the Judgement). So we see the following elements:
Historical Reality —> Commemorative/Prophetic Event —> Initial Antitype —> Continuing Antitype —> Completed Antitype
Most typological truths consist of these elements. Let us turn to the idea of coronation and see where things fit.
The Davidic coronation does not appear to be the Historical Reality, but the Commemorative and Prophetic Event, repeated each time a new king was anointed. The very wording of the second psalm, as we have seen, reaches backwards to something in the past, as well as upwards to something in Heaven.
The Initial Antitype of any Old Testament type should be found around the life of Christ. The fact that New Testament writers such as Paul and the author of Hebrews use Psalm 2 of the resurrection of Christ fits perfectly with an Initial Antitype.
The Continuing Antitype can be inferred from the fact that the entire Church in New Testament times is said to be made up of a “Royal Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) and “Kings and Priests” (Revelation 1:5). Therefore, the types in the second psalm speak to all of us who are “begotten” by God (John 1:12) as “joint heirs” with Christ (Romans 8:17).
The Future Antitype we will consider in a moment, for there is a point that needs to be clarified first, regarding anointing. However, each of these other elements exist. It is only the Historic Reality that is lacking. Let us first look at the book of Hebrews, and the anointed offices of Prophet, Priest and King.
Hebrews uses the verse from Psalm 2 on two separate occasions:
Hebrews 1:5 – “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son’?”
Hebrews 5:5 – “So also Christ did not exalt Himself to be made a High Priest, but was appointed by Him Who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You'”
Let us first of all acknowledge that Hebrews 1:5 and Hebrews 5:5 speak of the same event and APPLICATION of Psalm 2:7. Hebrews uses this event in the sense of being appointed to the office of Priest. This, then shows that it is not a complete or exhaustive application of Psalm 2, for the offices of Priest and King are distinct. Christ’s Kingship and indeed Mediating work, precedes the resurrection, for He was the “Angel of the Covenant” in Old Testament times (Malachi 3:1). We will see that these roles belong to Christ from the Historic Event upon which all types are based shortly. However, in terms of the work of Atonement, there are three roles Christ needed to engage in – Prophet, Priest and King.
Each of these three roles, in the Old Testament, involve an anointing. Each of these roles, Christ enacted before the incarnation, and was qualified for already. But the incarnation began the final work of Atonement. Christ, the “Word” of the Old Testament, was anointed as a Prophet at the baptism, where Sonship language was used once again.
Matthew 3:17 – “And behold, a Voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”
Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5 speak to the anointing as High Priest, which occurred at Pentecost, AD. 31. But His anointing as King is yet future. For while He is engaged in work as a High Priest, He is not doing the work of a King. When He finishes His High Priestly ministry, it is then He puts on His robes as a King. At this time, He will be crowned and anointed specifically to the role of King. There is some evidence that this will happen in Heaven with the redeemed present, though it may also occur just before His return to this earth.
So we see that far from exhausting the meaning of Psalm 2:7, Hebrews uses it in a way that cannot completely fulfill the meaning of the Psalm.
Hebrews 1 contains two literary elements. The first is a chiastic prelude or prologue to the whole book, represented by the first 4 verses. The second section of this chapter is a catena of quotations from the Old Testament, mostly from the Psalms.
The first four verses contain a forward chronological progression in the prologue. There are two different structures to the Prologue of Hebrews. The first, as mentioned before is chiastic. Read chronologically, however, we see a list of 7 qualifications for Christ’s High Priestly ministry.
Chiastically, the structure reads like this:
A The Son’s preeminence demonstrated in God’s final word in Him (1-2a)
___B The Son’s exaltation as universal heir of all creation (2b)
______C The Son’s agency in the creation of the ages (2c)
_________X THE DIVINE NATURE OF THE SON(3a-b)
______C’ The Son sustains all things by His word (3c)
___B’ The Son’s exaltation after His purification for sins (3d-e)
A’ The Son’s preeminence demonstrated in His name above the angels (4)
In this case, the passage reads like this:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
___whom he appointed the heir of all things,
______through whom also he created the world.
__________He is the radiance of the glory of God
__________and the exact imprint of his nature,
______and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
___After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Hebrews is concerned with the High Priesthood of Jesus. The qualifications for His Priesthood that are listed here span the whole of His existence – they are not limited to the incarnation. The seven qualifications in this prologue are as follows:
•The Son as Heir of all things (2b)
•The Son as Creator (2c)
•The Son’s divine glory (3a)
•The Son’s divine personhood (3b)
•The Son as Sustainer (3:c)
•The Son as Sacrifice (3d)
•The Son in exaltation (3e)
The first five are pre-incarnational, the sixth has reference to the incarnation and the last is post-incarnational. They all are used as arguments for Christ’s Divinity. The first attribute, Christ’s Heirship, precedes them all as the basis for them all. That is, because He is Heir, he also has the other qualities. So here we see one indication of an historic reality as the basis for the type and antitype. We will soon turn to the major passage which sets this forth.
The comparison of Christ as superior to the Angels (because of the qualifications preceding it) in verse 4 transitions to the concatation of verses which follows, all of which strengthen the argument of Christ’s preeminence to the Angels. However, the rest of the chapter is more than this. It reflects the coronation of Christ as High Priest. In these, verses, Hebrews quotes the Old Testament in such a way that God the Father calls Jesus “God”, while retaining His sovereign position as God over Christ.
As an aside, one of the points in this passage is that Christ is anointed with the “Oil of gladness” above His fellows. Just for interest’s sake, let’s have a look at the type of the anointing of the High Priest. The oil was poured on Aaron’s head (Exodus 29:7; 30:30; Leviticus 8:12) but it ran down onto his body (Psalm 133:2). So when Christ was anointed MORE than His fellows, we can expect that the Oil of gladness flowed down to HIS Body. And that’s exactly what we see at Pentecost… The Oil from Christ’s anointing flowed down onto His Church.
The final verse in the New Testament which reaches back to Psalm 2 has a slightly different application to the installment into the High Priestly ministry.
Acts 13:33 – “…This He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'”
Most understand this to refer to Christ’s resurrection. The very fact that the New Testament can use the same Old Testament verse in two distinct contexts should caution us not to try consider its meaning exhausted.
Let us now turn to look at the passage which speaks of the Historical Event underpinning the Old Testament type found in Psalm 2. The passage, of course, is Proverbs 8. This passage is alluded to in Hebrews 1, when it speaks of the pre-incarnate qualifications of Christ. However, the connection to Psalm 2 is as striking as the connection to the Prologue of John’s Gospel.
Proverbs 8:22-31 and the middle stanzas of Psalm 2 share several connections. Firstly, there is the idea of anointing in Psalm 2:2 and Proverbs 8:23. While it isn’t the same word, they are synonyms in the Hebrew. Again, synonyms are used for begetting, in Psalm 2:7 and Proverbs 8:24-25. Sonship language is used through both passages. If there was any Historical Reality which formed the basis of Psalm 2, it would be the one outlined in Proverbs 8. Hebrews 1:1-4 serves to tie them all together, for Wisdom’s Divinity, Creatorship and Sonship are the qualifications listed for the High Priestly ministry.
So we can see that when Scripture is used to interpret Scripture, and by this I mean through using a self-consistent hermeneutic that does not do injury to the text by stripping much of the meaning out of the text, then we find that the New Testament applications of the verses outline the initial Messianic fulfillment in the times of the Apostles. They should not limit the second psalm so that it cannot have reference to the eternal past, for an exegetical analysis of the passage demands a prior reality. Nor should they exhaust the antitypical fulfillment in an ongoing or eschatological sense. They merely give a single application. The full richness of the jewels of revelation comes to us when we understand the entire chain of fulfillment, from eternity (veiled time) in the past, to the fulfillments at the close of prophetic history.