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Psalm 2 Exegetical Analysis
Transcript of Psalm 2 Exegetical Analysis
1. Establishing the Text
a. textual boundaries
natural psalm boundaries
b. text-critical issues
Kethiv/Qere (Masoretic Text)
"Why are the nations rioting,
And the peoples muttering vain conspiracies? ...
2a. Historical and Cultural Setting
Absence of a title
Dating evidence for whole book of Psalms:
LXX (e.g. Psalm 151, note title) & Syriac
NT quotations & allusion
General independence of psalms from historical anchorage
Question of historical v. eschatological interpretation
Tendency of internal evidence if emphasis is historical... [
where would you locate it?
Socio-cultural: This psalm likely to be a prize exhibit for Mowinckel’s hypothetical New Year enthronement festival, with the king being acknowledged as attaining divine sonship at the moment of his annual re-enthronement, imagined as a royal/cultic ceremony
Preceding Biblical Context
First glance: second psalm of Book I
Acts 13:33 (Paul) in majority of NT mss calls it the 2nd psalm, but minority rdg. says 'first psalm'.
Psalms 1-2 app. a single psalm in some rabbinic refs. and as known to some church fathers.
Psalms 1-2 a joint introduction to Psalter?
Idea then would be a Mosaic/Davidic pair, or Sinai covenant/Davidic covenant, or wisdom/messianic.
Psalm 2 an introduction instead to Book I, I-II, or I-III?
Note literary links between Pss. 1-2 - see analysis.
2b. Literary Context
Purpose: extol the 'divine right' of the Davidic king/messiah
Literary Genre: royal psalm
Following Biblical Context
How would you describe the meaning relationship between the two lines?
syntax (sentence structure)
What the nations & their kings are saying:
3 line strophe,
vv. 1-3, with quoted words in v. 3
First two cola parallel the two cola of v. 1,
forming a kind of four-part parallelism.
Third colon, rather than being omitted,
probably has the emphasis.
Historical and other OT
Key terms - definitions, grammar,
and meaning in context
Poetic devices, literary features
The grammatical form of the first verb, '
', needs figuring out. Its stem is important (hiph'il). NET Bible has a good translation: "form a united front".
', 'rulers', is scarce (see Isa. 40:23).
', 'gather', is an obscure use, and its root is disputed.
', 'messiah/anointed', is important in 1-2 Samuel, and is used of pre-exilic kings of Judah in Lam. 4:20 and Hab. 3:13, and of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1
Meaning of 'ragash' (hapax l.), NIV 'conspire'
This is a good example of how we find out more about the meaning of words that are rare in the Hebrew text.
In this case, we find help in:
a cognate noun in Ps. 55:14 ('crowd' in NET Bible)
the Aramaic of Dan. 6:7, & 16
the Arabic cognate
the LXX's choice of word
Meaning of 'hagah', in parallel to 'ragash':
New Jerusalem Bible's choice is good: 'mutter'
Important connection to Ps. 1:2, where it has the positive meaning, 'meditate'.
Other Psalms parallels (concerning the Hebrew term) help us grasp its meaning: 35:28; 37:30; 38: 13; etc.
Other occurrences of the Hebrew term may be found using clickable online texts in tools such as Step Bible:
What kind of parallelism would you see here?
Image may be of animals tied to a yoke.
Assonance (a kind of paronomasia or sound-play) amounts to a virtual rhyme here, using a particular poetic suffix '-mo'.
, the sense is of a co-ordinated revolt of rulers apparently subject to Israel or Judah against her rule. If the psalm was born in the context of an actual or idealized domination by Israel of its neighbours, this might picture a season of uprising such as troubled Solomon's later years (I Kings 11:14-40).
i.e. in the sense most readily perceived through Christian interpretive history, these verses would speak of human resistance, especially in its representative authorities, to God's imposition of His rule through his chosen right-hand man (his 'anointed', v. 2, w. kingly connotations here and in 18:51; 20:6). In the psalm itself this would naturally represent Gentile resistance to the Messiah of Zion, but Acts 4:25-26 turns this astonishingly on its head.
Suggested omission of third colon,
"against the LORD and against his Anointed,"
solely on the basis of 'meter' considerations:
See BHS, Terrien, 38, and contra, Goldingay,
vv. 1-2 quoted in Acts 4:25-26 (LXX):
what is striking about this quote?
allusions in Rev. 11:18; 19:19
According to my break-up, there would be a general semantic parallelism between the ideas of decree and saying in the first bicolon, and between the ideas of sonship and begetting in the second.
This verse is difficult to analyze, but my 4-2-2-3 schema notes a pair of introductory cola and then a bicolon expressing the content of the decree. It would be more standard to divide the verse 4-4-3, i.e. into a tricolon, or rather, a monocolon and a bicolon, as indicated in NIV.
No real parallelism of meaning, just the completion of a statement.
I.e. the only parallelism in this verse is a rough balance of amount of content between the two halves.
No real structural parallelism.
The 'I' is emphatic, leading the verse.
There is an inverted structure between the 2nd and 3rd cola, with 'inheritance/possession' as the internal matching pair and 'nations/ends of the earth' as the external pair. This leaves the opening bicolon as somewhat introductory.
The parallelism between cola 2 & 3 is synonymous.
The ancient world witnesses the popular conception or official dogma that the king (or a hero) was the offspring of the gods. Terrien says, "Psalm 2 adopts the terminology of divine sonship but transforms it into a metaphor of adoption" (The Psalms, 84).
The key OT context for this statement is the sonship announcement about the royal offspring in the Davidic Covenant, 2 Sam. 7:14:
"I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me"
Also relevant is Psalm 89:26-27, with its context:
"He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.' And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth."
The emperor-vassal king relationship so familiar from Israel's ancient context is supplying the basic image here. It was often about the time of accession of a new emperor that vassal kings would link up and attempt rebellion before the new regime achieved stability.
A common way of taking control of restless vassal states was to remove rebellious local rulers and replace them with others with a co-operative attitude towards the empire, e.g. 2 Kings 2:23:34, where the Egyptians put Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah, and 2 Kings 24:17, where the Babylonians appoint Zedekiah as Judah's final king.
That the designated place of authority is Zion links this psalm with the other Zion psalms in the Psalter.
Note the emphatic 'I' here.
' has multiple meanings, but this one is very rare, appearing only here (in Qal) and in Prov. 8:23 (in the Niph'al). The Holman CS Bible's 'consecrated' is a good choice.
' is unusual but not unparalleled.
' normally means 'to give birth to' in its most direct meaning, i.e. with a female subject. One step down, it can mean 'to father/beget'. Here it is the latter, but spoken figuratively to reflect adoption.
Re the indignant anger of God here, Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, p. 99, discusses and questions the traditional, 'passionless' God of classical Christian theology.
See Heb. 1:2; Rev. 2:26.
Acts 13:33 -
when is Christ's adoption realized according to this sermon of Paul?
Heb. 1:5; 5:5 -
how does this verse function within the author's Christology?
Jesus' baptism: Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; cf. John 1:33-34, 49
Jesus' transfiguration: Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35
Now the anointed Son is speaking, rather than the heavenly King, yet the Son is quoting the King, so it amounts to much the same thing in speaker terms, and tempts us to begin looking for a concentric or chiastic structure for the whole psalm.
The chosen king declares in the LORD's words his own select status and right of inheritance and rule as the most favoured one of his adopted Father. Like Esther before Ahasuerus, the crown prince may ask what he will of the emperor's domain and prerogatives.
, NT writers looked for the time when Jesus received this adoption as God's particular Son, with his baptism, transfiguration and resurrection (Rom. 1:4) as candidate events, while John would underline the eternity of this Son/Father relationship (John 1).
Reading this psalm christologically puts a point on the Christian Gospel, because it becomes a kind of all-or-nothing commitment, a choosing of the sides, like choosing whether to side with the existing human Empire or join God's newly initiated Rebel Alliance that means to retake the Empire for God in the name of the authentic heir to the throne.
For 'ra`a`', 'break', in MT (hence NRSV), LXX reads the word as if the vowel pointing was different, thus 'rule' as in 'shepherd', 'ra`ah'. This is significant because of the three quotations that follow LXX in the book of Revelation. The effect of the difference is to soften the statement a little.
Rev. 12:5 and 19:15 depend on the LXX wording, looking for the eschatological rule of Christ.
See also Rev. 2:27 - Psalm 2 virtually supplies the theme for the book of Revelation.
The same pair of Greek words for 'fear' and 'trembling' that occur here reappear together in Phil. 2:12 - perhaps no accident.
The unidentified speaker in this psalm addresses the recalcitrant rulers in turn, advising them that discretion is the better part of valour, and that it's no shame to submit when the ruling authority occupies that place legitimately. Not only that, but it makes sense when the ruling authority is undefeatable...and indeed faithful in protecting true allies or vassals. The stone that can crush its enemy can be a very secure anchor to the one who approaches with the right attitude. "A word to the wise is sufficient."
The authoritative Christ that appears under a christological reading of this psalm is really the figure that we recognize in the book of Revelation, where Christ comes on a warhorse armed with a sword.
Illustration: the high stakes involved in choosing sides in the Syrian civil war. Choose wisely, back the legitimate power, commit fully and fight hard!
Application: There seems to be a NT principle that becoming a servant (or even 'slave', '
') of Christ makes the believer more free than ever, free in regard to any and all other powers except those God has authorized. Exercise: search the New Testament for words related to 'slavery' and 'freedom'. Which book feature these terms the most? What does it say about the freedom of the Christian who submits to God?
'Rejoice with trembling' strikes some commentators as strange, leading to suggested emendations (see below), although LXX supports it, as does the (semantic) parallelism.
Can you think of an OT passage where a king makes grandiose offers to someone he wishes to favour from his abundant resources?
Some scholars speak of a kind of ceremonial smashing of a enemy's name inscribed on pottery, in what are called 'execration texts'.
', 2/23 in OT, occurs otherwise in the uncomfortable Ps. 137:9, and in a very club-like usage in Jer. 51:20-23 (a book where smashed pots are a common image - see also 13:14; 22:28; 48:12 where this term is used, and see ch. 19).
The iron rod is probably meant as an image of royal authority, a sceptre, but could also be a shepherd's rod and/or a makeshift weapon.
Against the iron instrument, the pottery item is simply shattered.
', 2/4, is scarce, but clearly parallels '
', 'fear'. The combination with '
', 'rejoice', has made some commentators seek other solutions.
The twin verbs are from wisdom vocabulary, although we shouldn't take this too far and assume we're reading a wisdom piece here.
One of them, '
', is the source of the internal label of '
' for some psalms (32, 42-45, 52-55, etc.) It also turns up at the beginning of the closing psalm of book I, in the clause, "Blessed are those who
have regard for
the weak..." This verse also re-uses the 'blessed' terminology from Pss. 1:1 & 2:12.
Straightforward synonymous parallelism
An inverted bicolon, but with the variation that the initial 'attah', an adverb acting almost as an interjection, as 'now' does to begin sentences in English, makes way for the two-word noun phrase in the second colon.
While the structural parallelism (see left) is highly regular, semantically there is slightly more divergence, since 'with an iron sceptre' actually expresses the means of rule, using the preposition 'b', while 'like a potter's container' has an adverbial sense.
This bicolon is a neat chiasm, with the verbs on the outside, and twin prepositional phrases each containing a concrete image in the centre.
seems synonymous, while admitting some obscurity in second colon
5. Application and Communication
Nature of Audience
Nature of Presentation
Style of Delivery
Form of Written Document
Illustrations and Explanation
Nature of Challenge and Desired Response
4. Synthesizing the Content
Text’s role in its biblical context/biblical book: Psalm 2 as setting a Davidic/Messianic tone for early Book(s) of Psalter
Thematically oversized for its possible historical setting – burgeoning Messianic theme
Instrumental in a biblical theology of Jesus as the Messiah in NT/Gospel – the rightful ruler in God’s kingdom scheme, i.e. the Son of God
Theological implications: passionate God and warrior-king Messiah
Reception history (significant later interpretations)????
5/44 arias in Handel's Messiah
'bar' is very unusual as the word for 'son' in Hebrew, occurring elsewhere only in Prov. 31:2 (3x). It is the normal Aramaic word for 'son'. This has led to two main alternate suggestions:
'bar' is the Hebrew adjective 'pure' being used adverbially, meaning 'sincerely' - 'kiss like you mean it'. This has some ancient support in Gk. translations.
'bar' has become separated from 'gilo' ('rejoice') near the end of v.11. 'brglo' would have meant 'his feet', thus "kiss his feet" in NRSV.
Otherwise the use of the Aramaic, rather than Hebrew, term for 'son' can lead to discussions about the dating of this psalm.
The kiss is an image of subservient loyalty here, whether or not the 'feet' are meant to be a feature.
The kiss of Judas was likewise meant to be a kiss of loyalty.
The words for 'serve' in v. 11 and 'perish' (or similar) in v. 12 sound and look nearly identical, and represent the choice that the kings have to make.
' - is "for his wrath can flare up in a moment" (NIV, NRSV similar) the only possible meaning for the parent clause? Could it mean that it only lasts momentarily? This may depend which of the two other clauses it is more closely related to.
The kissing or esp. kissing of the feet is familiar from Mesopotamian royal monuments where vassal kings are shown bowing to the ground in subjection to the all-conquering emperor.
As in earlier tricola, it is the second and third cola that parallel one another, this time antithetically.
(meaning of paired lines)
backgrounds & parallels
Note MT/LXX question for OT texts generally
Note textual issue under Preceding Biblical Context
How the Lord
responds: 3 line strophe, vv. 4-6, with quoted words in v. 6
The king-designate boasts of what the LORD has decreed:
3 line strophe,
How the kings
of the nations
had better respond:
3 line strophe,
verb-compound subj. noun
Frequency of vassal revolt at power transitions in ANE empires
* Line is evenly balanced if Hebrew words are counted rather than stresses, i.e. if the maqqef is ignored for rhythm purposes.
There is an unusual use of the preposition 'el', but it's also found in Ps. 69:26.
'nataq...mosroth' is not common in OT, but there are very similar uses in Jer. 5:5; 27:1; 30:8; Nah. 1:3, which share the kind of parallelism shown here, with similar meaning.
' occurs 18x in OT, but usually of the mockery of the enemy of the righteous, e.g. Ps. 22:8; 80:7, while 59:9 is analogous to this ref.
See left for a number of instances in Jeremiah where rejection of the authority of God is pictured as tearing off a yoke.
For the LORD laughing at the wicked, see Pss. 37:13; 59:8.
As per left, note the prominence of pot-smashing imagery in Jeremiah in particular.
For a more permanent kind of subjection, see Judg. 1:6-7.
The restiveness of the nations is not really a consideration; the true power of the universe, the One enthroned in the skies, has decided who his designated agent of rule will be, and that's the end of the matter.
The reference to this king-designate being installed on Zion leads us to identify this psalm both with other 'Zion psalms' and with other 'royal psalms' in the Psalter.
It also anchors this celebration of power firmly in the Davidic covenant based in Jerusalem. So the historical reference might easily be to Solomon, or possibly a subsequent Davidic son, although the size of the shoes shown here lead Christian interpreters readily to think of the ultimate Messiah.
Remainder of Book I overwhelmingly Davidic by title
Question of actual v. assigned historical setting
Suitability of early psalms in the mouth of David, esp. in his conflict with Saul
In prose texts, look instead for 'discourse' features such as topic, character and mainline v. sideline sections, repeated narrative motifs, etc.
The LXX (Septuagint, or Greek OT) describes, not the Lord God installing his king here, but the installed king announcing his instalment by God.
Speakers & addressees
subj. pron.-verb-obj. noun
coh. verb-prepos.-noun-pr. noun
verb-prepos. phr.-coh. verb
obj. noun-noun (appos.)
noun (appos.)-cmpd obj. noun
verb-cmpd prepos. phrase
cmpd prepos. phrase-verb
adverb-voc. noun-impv. verb
impv. verb-cmpd voc. noun
impv. verb-obj. noun-adv. phrase
impv. verb-adv. phrase
[complex grammatical structure further complicated by textual confusion
The unnamed speaker begins with rhetorical questions over the folly of the nations.
Rhetorical (e.g. 10:13) questions and questions addressed to God (e.g. 10:1) are a common device in the Psalms.
Older commentaries were more inclined to speculate about a historical setting for this complaint within Israel's history known from the biblical narratives, e.g. the revolt of neighbour-states (Edom, Moab, Ammon &/or Damascus) conquered by David & Solomon as the 'united kingdom' weakened.
Who do you understand to be speaking here in vv. 10-12?
Which option seems to have been chosen by your English version?
By Steven G. Johnson (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11326786
An Israelite king bowing to the Assyrian king on the Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer in the British Museum
How many terms can you find in v. 12 that might connect this psalm to its surrounding context?