A Reflection on Psalm 2 by Canon Rob
11th February 2024, The Sunday Before Lent
Verses from Psalm 50 are set for this morning’s Eucharist, but as we have considered them in the past, the psalm for reflection today is one set for Evensong and it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. However, as you will soon see, it is certainly a psalm for the times in which we live. The words accompanying the picture here are those you will find in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the psalms. In Common Worship the word “heathen” is replaced by “nations” and refers to the Gentile nations but the opening question remains the same: “Why are the nations in tumult, and why do the peoples devise a vain plot?” [Verse 1.] The rest of the psalm may not appear to answer this question, although it has to do with the foolishness of humanity. Verse 4 would have us believe that God laughs at such foolishness – although, as I have said before, we need to take care not to attribute to God our human emotions. What may be nearer the truth is that any loss of real, lasting peace [shalom] is a sign of the breakdown in the relationship between us and God as well as that between each other. A blessing at the end of the Eucharist begins with the words, “The peace of God which passes all understanding….” and if we could all live in a closer relationship with the God of peace, we would probably find it easier to make the world a more peaceful place. Dermot Cox, in his book, “The Psalms in the Life of God’s People,” writes about the place of the psalms at a time of distress and he says, “Any diminution of human well-being, any loss of shalom, is indicative of something wrong with an individual’s relationship with God. The first and most immediate cure is to be found in prayer,….” Psalm 2 was written thousands of years ago but much of it is, tragically, as appropriate today.
From the time of Moses, kingship became an institution given by God for His people [See Deuteronomy 17.14-20.] and it is likely that verses 6 of today’s psalm refers to King David: “…I have set my king upon my holy hill in Zion” and in the following verse we have an example of the people looking forward to the King who would be the Messiah.“I will proclaim the decree of the Lord; he said to me: ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you’.” In Matthew 3.17 we hear these same words about Jesus, after he had been baptised. After many years of praying and waiting, the Messiah is here! But for now, David – and the earthly kings who follow him – will lead God’s people and in verses 8 and 9 he addresses the people recalling God’s promise of victory over the nation’s enemies. Unless they submit they will be dashed “in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” [You may find it interesting to read about the analogy of the potter in Isaiah 45.9-25]
The mood changes in the final verses, along with the emphasis. Verse 10 is a call for the kings to be wise: “Now therefore be wise, O Kings; be prudent you judges of the earth.” In the following verse we see that wisdom comes from obeying God’s laws.“Serve the Lord with fear, and with trembling kiss his feet……” Both verses can be seen as a warning, especially as the last words of verse 11 refer to God’s anger. But they can also be seen as words of advice: advice – which when followed – will lead to the peace which the nation seeks and, from which, the people will greatly benefit. “Happy are all they who take refuge in him [the Lord.]” [Verse 12.] As I said at the beginning, Psalm 2 doesn’t make for comfortable reading because, as we reflect upon it, we can so easily bring to mind the conflicts which are taking place throughout the world today and not least in the Holy Land. I hope that Dermot Cox’s words above will help you as you go through this psalm and also that the words below, printed at the end of Psalm 122 in Common Worship Daily Prayer, will encourage you as you pray.
God of our joy and gladness, hear our prayer for the peace of the world and bring us at last,
with all our companions in faith, to the peace of that city where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and to all eternity.