Psalm 2 (RSV)
1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling
12 kiss his feet, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
That’s the question we’re all asking in the aftermath of terrorist acts so violent, so senseless, so unthinkable that we Americans will endure a scar in our psyche until the end of days.
We are not he first to ask, “Why?” The poet of Psalm 2 in the Old Testament voiced it. Perhaps it was after his village was burned by an Assyrian raiding party. Maybe it was after the Philistines slew his brother in battle. Or perhaps it was when his crops were pilfered by the Egyptian army’s foragers. But with all the anguish we feel today, he queried the same, “Why do the nations rage?”
In this poetic expression of faith written in a time of political upheaval, we are given three glimpses of truth, realities that can help us cope in our own day.
The Nature of People
The first portion of the Psalm, verses 1 through 3, gives us a view of humankind. Man is “conspiring,” or in the Hebrew, “raging.” Other words used to describe our politic are “plot,” “taking a stand,” “gather against,” “break” and “throw off.” Clearly the poet understands humans to be violent and rebellious, full of evil scheming.
The doctrine that pulls together all of this thought is called Total Depravity. It means sin has affected us in our bodies, in our spirits, and in our will, intellect and emotion. And since Adam and the dawn of our race, all humanity has been sinful.
So it is that our world writhes in pain as we violently express our selfish, twisted plottings.
The Nature of God
Second, in verses 4 through 9, the psalmist gives us a glimpse of Almighty God. He is the one who “sits in the heavens.” The Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol has Mr. Lincoln seated with back to the old Confederacy. He is relaxed. With one hand he makes a war-like fist on the arm of the chair, but with the other he is almost drumming with his fingers. From one side of the memorial Mr. Lincoln’s face is stern and war-like with resolve. Yet viewed from the other side he is bemused. Thus the sculptor has captured the many facets of a great American president. And so has the poet in Psalm 2 captured some of who God is.
Notice God laughs and holds the rebellious machinations of sinful man in “derision.” The Lord is not threatened. His rein is secure. And he proactively selects his own ruler to serve forever. “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” And the nations of the world will be his heritage. Those who refuse to bow the knees will be as clay pots broken easily by a rod of iron.
Again, visit Washington, DC. Notice the highest point. It is neither the Washington monument nor the capital rotunda, but the spire of the National Cathedral. Our forefathers wanted God’s law, the gospel of Christ Jesus, to be our highest aspiration.
And so it is in the psalm. God has chosen the Messiah, the Christ as King eternal. And in all of history he has decreed, “None higher than Jesus!”
The Nature of Faith
So after giving us a glimpse at human nature and a glimpse of God, the psalmist in the third portion of his poem gives us some advice on how to act. Verse 10 warns, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.” He goes on to call for reverence toward God, service, and humility–literally “kiss his feet”–and he promises blessings to all who take refuge in God.
Since the terrorist strike I have witnessed much arrogance. Chest-thumping claims of “great America” and all about how we’re going to spill the blood of each villain abound. We assure ourselves of God being on our side and sing patriotic songs. “God Bless America!” But the psalmist turns it around. “America, bless God!” For in the end the question is not “Is God on our side?” but “Are we on God’s side?”
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