Psalm 2: Why do the nations rage?

Politics, power and faithfulness.

Read Psalm 2: 

Open the translation of your choice...

 

 

... and be welcome to the immersion materials below.

 

pic by bethany carlson

It's a Fierce One

From top to bottom,

Psalm 2 is emotional, political and full of

questions about power. 

 

Though it was written in the Near East 2-3K years ago, in whatever 21st century moment you read this, I bet it speaks to the issues of your day. 

 

Psalm scholars (such as Brueggemann, Mays, Segal and McCann) say where Psalm 1 imagines two paths for individuals to walk, Psalm 2 does the same for nations.

 

Spending time with Psalm 2 may bring our attention to themes of violence, greed, power and responsibility. We may even be nudged to examine how we participate in systems of political power, and even consider who benefits and who suffers from these systems.

screaming in sacre coeur by fernando nogueira

Overview:

What's Happening Here?

Psalm 2 is usually categorized as a "royal psalm,"-- a lyric fit for a king.  Royal psalms are coronation songs, celebration prayers or concerned laments on behalf of the fearless leaders of ancient Israel.

 

Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal notes the text is historically very specific. Though there seems no immenant danger of war, the king whom the God of Israel has chosen is imagined at risk of being overthrown. The war room is full, armies being readied, battles planned. The psalmist is clear that God wins hands down.

 

Psalm 2 begin the drama with outrage: How could anyone oppose the king that God has chosen?!

 

Back in the day, it was understood: the anointed king is carrying out God's very mission for the world. To go against the king was to oppose God's holy plan.

Verse 2:

Who's This "Annointed One?"

The Hebrew word mashiach in verse 2 translates to the English "annointed one." It's a political term naming the next in line for the throne of the Davidic dynasty.

 

(Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. Page 5)

 

A later intepretation in Jewish philosophy, according to Rabbi Segal, has this mashiach representing the future king Messiah. Nothing in the text persay extrapolates into the future. 

 

Segal, Rabbi Benjamin J. A New Psalm: The Psalms as Literature.  Jerusalem and New York: Gefen Publishing: 2013/5774. Page 14)

 

In a similar way, some Christian students read mashiach as a foretelling reference to Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.

Verse 4:

God Laughs

Yep, God sputters a scoffing laugh:

 

"As IF anyone could touch my chosen king! Ha! Let 'em try!"

 

Of this, Rev. Dr. Martin Marty writes:

 

Now comes a surprising note, a rare biblical air-clearing one: we hear divine laughter. (v4)

 

We have waited so long for such a laugh...

 

This psalm, which credentials the LORD to judge the nations, turns soft at the end. Its purpose has not been to picture God as a petty Middle Eastern tyrant who loves to taunt enemies; the divine laughter and wrath are rich in purpose. Anyone can laugh and bear a permanent grudge. The divine passion, however, comes in the form of an anger that need not last. 

 

Marty, Martin E. A Cry of Absence: Reflections on the Winter of the Heart. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1983. p115-116.

Verse 11:

Be in Awe.

It reads, "Serve the Holy One with awe and rejoice with trembling."

 

Deep reverence and ecstatic joy get married.

 

It's what German theologian Rudolf Otto described as mysterium tremendum et fascinans, a holy presence that is all at once terrifying, fascinating and mysteriously wonderful.

 

Where this verse is wielded as a warning, we might also imagine it as an invitation: What would it look like to be so centered in God and so engaged in compassion for the world that we are trembling with honor and joy?

 

Verse 12:

And Another Thing! Kiss My Arms!

Verse 12 has this odd phrase that leaves most scholars scratching their heads. In English, various translations read, "do homage to the son," "kiss his feet or "kiss the ground."

 

Hebrew professor and Bible translator Robert Alter's take? Most translations miss it.

 

The two Hebrew terms that make up this phrase are nashqu (meaning either "to kiss" or "to bear," as in arms) and bar (meaning son or wheat). He suggests the text bends the word bar into bor meaning "purity."

 

Put them together, and Robert translates verse 12, "with purity be armed."

 

Robert wonders if this might be an ancient cultural idiom we're not privy to, one that is elegantly juxtaposed with the language in the first part of the psalm of readying for battle against Zion. 

 

Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. P. 5.

Verse last:

Who's Happy Now?

If Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 together are a kind of prologue to the rest of the five books of the psalms, they must be set apart in some way, right?

 

Bookending the pair is the expression: "Happy are those who..."

 

Psalm 1 begins "Happy are those who have avoided the council of the wicked." 

 

Psalm 2 ends: "Happy are all who take cover in the Holy One."

 

After all the tension of the text, Psalm 2 ends with a beattitude!

 

All the threats, all the images of God's anger and wrath-- they all dissolve in this bright surprise we can't see without squinting. What a relief. There is a spotlight on the clarity two choices: a life of terror living with our abuse of power where we are like dry grass blown away by the desert wind, or a life of joy connected to the green-tree source of life, covered in the Holy One.

gargoyle by claudia meyer

donskoy monastery by dmitry belopolsky

notre dame gargoyle by jacques sabourin

depostphotos

notre dame gargoyle by jacques sabourin

notre dame gargoyle by thomas norsted

Singing the Psalm

Singing truth to power.

Chorus:

Rejoice under God, tremble now under God 
Take heart under God, be in awe under God 

 

Verse 1:
Why do the nations rage? Why do the rulers scheme? 
Men and women of power, you serve under God. 

 

Chorus

 

Verse 2:
Work for the holy way, justice and mercy. 
Men and women of power, be true under God. 

 

Chorus

 

Verse 3:
We pray for wisdom now, we pray for strength and hope. 
Men and women of power, take heart under God.


Chorus

Music Resources

Download the song at the Shop page, or at iTunesBandcamp, CDBaby and Amazon.com for about $1.

 

Under God is on the "Love Stands With" album.

Album songbook available here.

 

 

Download Under God Charts:

  • piano score

  • ​lead sheet

  • guitar/bass chart

  • jpg of congregational line

  • songleader's notes

 

                                          Under God Charts

                                          $10.00

Download Under God Accompaniment Pack:

  • all charts above

PLUS:

  • powerpoint lyric slides

  • original recording

  • instrumental accompaniment track

 

                                          Under God

                                          Accompaniment Pack

                                          $12.00

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"Under God" is part of the Love Stands With Psalm collection.

Full album songbook with scores, charts and songleaders notes available.

pic by H Assaf

What Does This Bring Up For You?

At PsalmImmersion.com, we encourage wondering. We love a good question.

 

Following one's natural curiosity can lead you to interesting places. Sometimes we feel resistance to ideas because they push our buttons or trigger important memories or feeings.

 

This is a good thing. Feeling resistance is part of honest growth. 

 

So, please pay attention to any tension inside you. Maybe share these wonderings in a group, listening carefully to the many ways scripture can stir us. How is Psalm 2 poking you?

 

  • How do you feel about war?

 

  • How do you feel about people who serve in military or political fields?

 

  • Name a political leader you admire? What is important to you about this person's way?

 

  • Is it easy or difficult to support our current President and members of Congress? Why?

 

  • What has changed in your political views as you've grown in years and experience?

 

  • How do you feel about disagreeing with your friends and family about politics?

 

  • Imagining God's voice, what do you think God scoffs and laughs at? (Psalm 2.4)

 

  • Imagining God's emotionality, what do you think angers God? (Psalm 2.5)

 

  • Do you desire in some way to be more involved in local or national decision-making?

 

  • In the midst of war and many kinds of violence near and afar, where do you find a sense of rest?

pic by H Assaf: Civil War bullet holes in wall

Grant Us Wisdon, Grant Us Courage

Harry Emerson Fosdick

(1878-1969)

Harry Fosdick wrote the hymn, "God of Grace and God of Glory" in 1930. Paired with the tune CWM RHONDDA, it's been a popular and challenging hymn of the wider church since the Great Depression.

 

The text's intensity may resonate with your study of Psalm 2.

 

Read the story behind the hymn.

 

Read an in-depth sermon study on the hymn.

 

 

God of grace and God of glory,

On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.

 

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days, for the living of these days.

 

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal, lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

 

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee, that we fail not man nor Thee.

 

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee whom we adore, serving Thee whom we adore.

 

text: Harry Emerson Fosdick

tune: CWM RHONDDA

Praying For Our World and Its Leaders

Holy One, amid the suffering of the world, your love is unfailing. In this time of trouble, be to us a sure rock of promise. Guide the leaders of our nation and every nation with your wisdom. Comfort them in their anxieties and give them clarity and courage to make decisions.

 

And finally, Holy One, we pray for your justice and compassion to be embodied in us. Show us the way of passionate love for our world. Guide us to move with patience, fairness and kindness with all beings we encounter.

 

Amen.

 

Adapted from p. 76-77 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

Adapted from the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) book of worship p. 76-77:

 

Let us pray for our world and its leaders, near and far away.

 

Holy One, you call your people to honor those in authority. Help us elect trustworthy leaders, participate in wise decisions for our common life, and serve our neighbors in our community. Bless the leaders of our land, that we may be at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.

 

Holy One, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed services at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your grace; strengthen them in their trials; give them courage to face the perils that surround them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be.

 

Other Great Music For Psalm 2

Ted Pearce:

Psalm 2

Karl Kohlhase

I Have Set My King In Zion (Psalm 2)

Felix Mendelssohn:

Warum toben die Heiden (Psalm 2)

Jewish Social Network

Psalm 2 chanted in Hebrew with Hebrew transliteration and English 

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for studying with us at PsalmImmersion.com

 

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