12 July 2017

Don’t mess with our Messiah.

The second psalm in our bibles, Lammá ragšú goyím/“For what reason rage the nations?” (Latin, Quare fremuerunt gentes) is considered a Messianic psalm ’cause it’s about Israel’s king, and one of the king’s titles is of course Messiah. And it’s considered a Messianic prophecy ’cause Jesus is Messiah, so Christians are gonna look for ways in which it gets fulfilled in the present day—kinda like the apostles did when they quoted it.

Acts 4.23-28 NET
23 When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather,
‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot foolish things?
26 The kings of the earth stood together,
and the rulers assembled together,
against the Lord and against his Christ.’ Ps 2.1-2
27 “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen.”

After all, if the psalmist (who’s not identified, though you notice the apostles figured it was David) was speaking of Herod, Pilate, and the head priests conspiring against Jesus, it sure does look like the first lines of this psalm.

Why was it composed? We figure it’s for coronations. When a new king was anointed, they’d sing this. The first book in Psalms appears to be from the kingdom of southern Israel (“Judah”), so likely it was sung by and to the kings of Jerusalem. The original doesn’t rhyme or have meter, but I rendered it in trochaic heptameter anyway.

Psalm 2 KWL
1 For what reason is the uproar of the nations?
Or the people found in useless meditations?
2 Kings of earth and rulers take a stand, consulting
on the LORD and his Messiah—thus resulting
3 in, “Let’s tear their chains off; throw away their bindings.”
4 Seated in the heavens, my Lord mocks their findings.
5 Then he speaks, with nostrils flaring, to their hubris.
In his burning rage he terrifies them senseless.
6 “On my holy Zion hill, I poured out my king.”
7 Let me now instruct you on the LORD God’s ruling.
“You’re my son,” he told me, “on this day I birthed you.
8 Ask me and I grant the wealth of nations to you.
Your inheritance extends to earth’s horizon.
9 Shatter with your iron staff; like jars you’ll break them.”
10 Now kings, think it through. Earth’s judges, heed this warning.
11 Serve the LORD in fear. Rejoice, but do it trembling.
12 Kiss the son lest he destroy your path in anger.
Small things make him burn. Bless all who seek his shelter.

“Our king is better than your kings.”

Absolute monarchies aren’t stable countries. That’s because they stand or fall depending on who’s king. A new king means a new lawmaker, new executive, new judge—and new backbone. If he’s got no backbone, he won’t be much of any of those things.

Nowadays we’re not as familiar with absolute monarchs ’cause most monarchies are constitutional. The king and nation live under law. Often their parliaments really run things. Their constitution makes ’em stable, because the kings may change, but the laws don’t. And in ancient times, Israel was just about the only constitutional monarchy in existence, thanks to the Law. (That is, unless the kings ignored the Law and followed the Baals.)

Anyway, whenever a new leader steps up (and this is also true of presidents and bosses), the nearby competitors figure it’s time to test the new guy. Especially in ancient times, when nearby vassal states like Edom, Moab, and Ammon might wanna shake off their Israeli masters. So… is the new king a warrior like his dad was? Or is he some weak-willed capitulating pansy whom they can easy push around? Even overthrow?

Fr’instance Hanun of Ammon.

2 Samuel 10.1-4 NET
1 Later the king of the Ammonites died and his son Hanun succeeded him. 2 David said, “I will express my loyalty to Hanun son of Nahash just as his father was loyal to me.” So David sent his servants with a message expressing sympathy over his father’s death. When David’s servants entered the land of the Ammonites, 3 the Ammonite officials said to their lord Hanun, “Do you really think David is trying to honor your father by sending these messengers to express his sympathy? No, David has sent his servants to you to get information about the city and spy on it so they can overthrow it!”
4 So Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away.

That’s how you start a war, which took the next couple chapters (with a break for David stealing Bathsheba) before it ended with a lot of dead Syrian mercenaries, and Ammon in slavery making bricks.

Likewise the goyím/“nations” were making plans to “tear their chains off; throw away their bindings.” Ps 2.3 This was their opportunity to declare their independence, and get Israel off their backs. But lest the vassals get any bright ideas, the singer—the king himself, ’cause “[God] told me” Ps 2.7 —proclaims God anointed him king, God declared him a son, and God offers to let him conquer whoever he bloody well pleases. God mocks the nations for their hubris, and any plans to revolt are really gonna piss off the Almighty. So don’t even think about it. You’re better off seeking Messiah’s shelter, Ps 2.12 not fleeing it.

It’s striking how belligerent this psalm is. It’s almost like the psalmist is daring the nations to try something, and let the LORD show off how mighty he is. You wanna go toe-to-toe with the Almighty? Or his adoptive son?

’Cause if Messiah wanted to, he could ask God to let him take over the whole world, and bend it to his will. Ps 2.8-9 He could wield that iron staff, like Jesus is described doing in Revelation Rv 12.5, 19.15 —although Jesus’s form of busting stuff up tends to be more in smashing idols than smashing people. Even so, at the End every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. Pp 2.11

Yeah, this psalm applies to Jesus too. He’s Messiah, remember? But a much better Messiah than the ancient kings of Jerusalem: The king of New Jerusalem is free of the vengeful, petty human behavior that was in the minds of the kings who originally sang this psalm. He’s already conquered the world, Jn 16.33 and when he rules it personally, it’ll be in love and fairness, not by breaking the wills of the rebellious.

How it’s fulfilled in Acts. And in our future.

If you’re gonna nitpick (and sometimes I do), you’re gonna notice the historical context of Psalm 2 doesn’t precisely match what was happening in Acts 4. The apostles clearly had in mind how the Judeans and Romans colluded to kill Jesus. Not how the Edomites and Moabites plotted to revolt against Jerusalem.

This just goes to show the difference between a prophetic prediction and a fulfilled scripture. Psalm 2 wasn’t about the plot against Jesus. But it’s like the plot against Jesus. The idea of the nations fomenting plans against Messiah? Well, the nations did make plans against Messiah when Jesus was killed. Him being Messiah was their entire case against him, you might recall. They condemned him because he said he was Messiah and Son of Man; they handed him over to the Romans because being Messiah made him king of Judea, and Tiberius Caesar was already their king.

Fulfillment only means history is repeating itself. Doesn’t have to repeat itself exactly. “Close enough” will do. The nations set themselves against Messiah in the past, and (to the apostles’ minds, just recently) they did it again. They still do it again, every time a nation decides to outlaw Christians or Christian converts. Every time a nation or its people start persecuting Christians, we once again have nations roiling against Messiah. This psalm gets fulfilled a lot.

Once Jesus returns, he’s likewise gonna get opposition from people who don’t want him to take over the world. But he’s gonna. The world is his inheritance. In this sense, Jesus’s return fulfills this psalm way better than the death of Jesus.

Yes, this is a prophecy: It was written by a Spirit-inspired author, and reflects God’s thinking. But not all prophecies predict the future. This one doesn’t even try to. That’s not its point nor purpose. It’s to declare God’s will about his anointed kings of Jerusalem. Since God’s will about them is similar to his will about Jesus, of course history’s gonna repeat itself. Time and again.

But again: This psalm isn’t a prophetic prediction of the second coming. Nor of Jesus’s death. It was simply to tell Israel’s neighbors their revolutions would go nowhere. God’s chosen his Messiah, and ain’t nothing they could do about it. And similarly, God’s chosen Jesus, and still ain’t nothing they could do about it. They did try killing him, and God simply undid that. So that’s not gonna work. God will get his way in the end.