The Problem of Persecution – Psalm 2:1-3

Psalm 2:1-3

 First Impressions

The psalm starts out with a rhetorical question.  The translation note in the NET (New English Translation) Bible reads, “The question is rhetorical. Rather than seeking information, the psalmist expresses his outrage that the nations would have the audacity to rebel against God and his chosen king.”[1]  The psalmist (King David, see below) mentions that this does happen, and it’s important for the sake of studying to examine why it does.

“Why do (emphasis mine) the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?”  Verses two and three mention the content of the raging and plotting: opposition to the Lord.  Why would anyone be opposed to the Lord?  Apparently, they feel oppressed by Him.

This psalm also gives us our first direct citation from the book in the New Testament.  In Acts 4, Peter and John were placed on trial before the Council of the Jews for having proclaiming that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  After trying to intimidate the apostles into silence, the Council was forced to release Peter and John, who promptly returned to their friends with a report.  That report produced a prayer in verses 24-30 in which they quote Psalm 2.

If you take the time to read the Acts 4 passage, you can learn a few more things about the opening to Psalm 2.  This is the beauty of using Scripture to interpret Scripture.  First of all, we learn that the author of Psalm 2 is King David.  This informs the style a bit, as we know the history and can compare this passage with others he has written.  Second of all, we learn that the psalm is a Messianic psalm, since the apostles interpret “Anointed” to mean Jesus Christ.  Thirdly, what David is talking about in the first three verses of Psalm 2 is the idea of persecution, as we see the believers pray for boldness in the face of threats.

This is our launching point into the second psalm.  David is here trying to address the age-old problem of persecution.  Why is it so unpopular to be a follower of the Lord?

They answer lies in the interpretation of verse three.  “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  Almost the entirety of this interpretation falls in the division of law and gospel, and so we’ll take it back up in that section.

Insights from the Septuagint

1Why do the nations rave

            and the peoples plot in vain?

2The kings of the earth make a stand,

            and the rulers gather together in it,

            against the Lord and against His anointed

3“Let us break their bonds

            and throw away their yoke from over us.”

There really isn’t much to note in the Septuagint in these verses.  I had a hard time translating the middle phrase of verse two, “and the rulers gather together in it”.  There’s a verb, “saying”, missing from the end of verse two, but the quotation is implied easily enough.

One thing I would like to point out is the change from “cords” (ESV) to yoke in the Septuagint.  Immediately, Matt. 11:28-30 popped into my head.  This has a great application for us in the Law/Gospel section.

Law & Gospel

This is where the meat and potatoes come forward, as it should be.  In addressing the problem of persecution, we have to look at why the persecution happens in the first place.  Why would anyone be opposed to God?

In this particular case, it is a misunderstanding of the Gospel.  In verse two we learn that the world is lining up in opposition against God, which might in and of itself be understandable.  Plenty of nations have their own gods, and if you’ve ever read through Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament, each nation (especially the ones invading Israel and Judah) desires to establish the superiority of the particular god or gods they worship.

But that’s not the whole picture.  They’re also lining up against the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus Christ.  Why would anyone be opposed to Jesus Christ?  We’re talking about the only Son of God who died in our place and offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift!  What’s the purpose in opposing Him, unless you’re completely missing the point as to why He came and what exactly it is that He accomplished?

Luther touches on this in his commentary on Psalm 2.  “This Gospel they attack, which is foolishness to the wise men of this generation and an offense and a heresy to those who are swollen with their own righteousness.”[2]  The first reason anyone would attack Jesus Christ is because of pride.  We want to do it ourselves.  We want to be the ones to achieve righteousness.

Unfortunately for those espousing this life philosophy, there are no self-made men in heaven.  The prophet Isaiah said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment,” (Isa. 64:6).  I like the translation of this verse that reads, “and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”  Anything good we can present before God, apart from Jesus Christ, comes with the taint of sin on it, which makes it entirely and utterly worthless.  Thus, those who are relying on their own good deeds are literally submitting dirty laundry as the evidence they trust will get them into heaven.

The second reason why anyone would line up in opposition against Jesus Christ is found in verse three.  “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  Remember that in the Septuagint, the word for “cords” was actually “yoke”?  Here’s where it comes into play.  People actually believe that Christ is burdening them with the requirements of the gospel.  This is a gross misinterpretation of the gospel and the flip side of the self righteousness coin.

There are people who, misunderstanding the gospel, believe they have to actually merit what Christ accomplished on the cross.  This was the fallacy of the Roman Catholic Church that Martin Luther found himself fighting against, the idea that Christ died on the cross for our sins, but we somehow have to pay Him back for that before He will let us into heaven.  The problem with this is that because of our sinful natures, we are entirely unable to please Him.  And so for these people, Christ holds the same function that the law does in their lives, constantly beating them down and reminding them of their failures.  He becomes an oppressor.

With Christ as an unnecessary complication to life at best, and a tyrannical, oppressive judge at worst, the world lines up against Him and against those who follow Him.  What do those of us who are followers of Christ do?

First of all, we straighten them (and ourselves) out by rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).  We make sure that the law stays the law and the gospel remains the gospel.  That means that anything God requires us to do falls in the law department.  All of that is designed first and foremost to show us our sins and failures.  Anything that God has done for us and promises to us because of Jesus Christ is the gospel.  This ensures that the gospel continues to be a “free gift” (Rom. 6:23), and not something we have to pay for or earn.

Second, we prepare for persecution.  The Bible is very clear that as followers of Jesus Christ, we can expect to be attacked (Matt. 5:11-12).  Preparation for persecution involves being firmly grounded in the Word of God (see discussions on Psalm 1).  Preparation for persecution involves the realization that our enemies are really attacking God, and not us.  Preparation for persecution involves being deeply thankful to God that He has, on account of His Son Jesus Christ, called us His children and identified Himself with us (John 1:12Acts 5:41).

Coming up next, God’s response to the opposition.

[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006).

[2] Martin Luther, vol. 12, Luther’s Works, Vol. 12 : Selected Psalms I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999),Ps 2:2.

, , , , , , , ,

  1. God Responds to His Enemies – Psalm 2:4-6 « ophelimos
  2. Christus Rex – Psalm 2:7-9 « ophelimos
  3. The Sweet Embrace – Psalm 2:10-12 « ophelimos
  4. Responding to Psalm 2 « ophelimos
  5. Guest Response to Psalm 2 « ophelimos

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