Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 2

Text in red are my additions.

According to some, this and the first Psalm form but one; which thus begins and ends in blessedness; for Psalm 1, it is argued, which treats of Christ begins with the words Blessed is the man; while Psalm 2 ends with the blessedness of the members, Blessed are they who put their trust in Him. St Paul, indeed, in his sermon at Antioch in Pisidia says: As it is also written in the Second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee’ (Acts 13:33). But the better manuscripts have “in the First Psalm:” and, according to a capital rule of criticism, were the manuscript authorities only equal, this, as being the stranger and more difficult reading, ought to be preferred.  The probability, therefore, seems that, in Apostolic times, these two were really reckoned as one.  It has been well said, that it is almost presumptuous to comment on this Psalm after an Apostle.

2:1  Why do the heathen so furiously rage together: and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

Why do the heathen so furiously rage together? In the literal sense, the Philistines, who before David was established in his kingdom came up again and again to attack him: but spiritually, Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman soldiers, who indeed furiously raged against our Lord, both in the judgment seat and on Mount Calvary.  And the people, that is, the Jews, imagined a vain thing, when they took counsel how they “might entangle Him” (Matt 22:15; 27:66) Who Spake as never a man spake, “in His talk;” how they might kill the Prince of Life; how they might secure the Mighty God by a few soldiers and a little wax (a reference to the soldiers with lights in the Garden of Agony).  Notice that there is no distinct mention made of the Jews: Why do the heathens-why do the people? For verily they deserved to lose all distinct and express recognition as a peculiar nation, when they had thus sunk below the wickedness of the heathen in crucifying the Lord of Glory.  (St Matthew, himself of Jewish descent, does indeed compare those of his countrymen who opposed Jesus as being pagan-like.  But it should be noted that he does the same when he quotes our Lord concerning Christians who show themselves as Pagans when they will “not hear even the Church”-18:17. Likewise, St Paul does the same in 1 Cor 5:1. In doing this they are in the same tradition as the Old Testament Prophets-e.g., Isaiah 1:10.  Amos also, after condemning several Pagan peoples turns his focus on the kingdoms of Judah and Israel-Amos 1:3-2:16. See note 1 at the end of this post).

Imagine a vain thing: as God’s enemies always do when taking counsel against God’s people.  “ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20).  Joseph was a Christ-like figure.  His betrayal by his own brothers foreshadowed Christ’s betrayal by his countrymen.  In spite of the betrayal of the former, God made it work towards their salvation from famine.  In spite of the rejection of Jesus, eventually “all Israel will be saved; see Romans 11.

2:2  The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together: against the Lord, and against his Anointed.

The kings of the earth. Pontius Pilate and Herod, stand up, and the Rulers, the chief Priests and the Pharisees, take counsel together See Matt 2:4; Matt 12:14; Matt 26:3-4.  So in another Psalm: “Princes also did sit and speak against me” (Psalm 119:23).  Again, Kings of the earth may well signify the Prince of the power of the air who, of a surety, now lords it over the children of men (Eph 2:2).  Against his Anointed. Where notice, that David was anointed King three times.  1. Secretly in his father’s house, by Samuel.  2. In Heron, by the men of Judah over that tribe only.  3. In the same city, over all israel.  In like manner, Christ may be said to have been anointed three times.  In the first place, secretly and in His Father’s house; namely, by that secret foreknowledge of God, before all worlds, that He should be the Redeemer of man.  Next, when He was sent into the world and declared to be the Son of God with power; but still over the house of Judah only, that is, over His true servants: because, as the Apostles says, “we see not yet all things put under Him” (Heb 2:8).  But thirdly, He shall have all things subdued unto him at the end of the world, as Israel, no less than Judah, , finally submitted to David, according to that saying: “He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor 15:25)

2:3  Let us break their bonds asunder: and cast away their cords from us.

Let us break their bonds asunder. This we may understand in more ways than one.  It may be spoken by the enemies of Christ exhorting each other to cast off His light yoke and His easy burden (Matt 11:9). Several other interpretations are given at this point by the various Patristic/Medieval commentators, and these may seem fanciful or problematic.  The quoted words “let us break their bonds & c.,” are attributed to Christ, the Apostles, Christians in general, or even angels.  In these cases, the words are taken as being directed against the schemers in verses 1-2.  These interpretations are as follows:

Again, it may be spoken of Christ Himself, Who burst the bonds of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by them (Acts 2:24).  Again, in another sense, there may be a reference to the ceremonial law of the Jews, which the Apostles cast away, saying, “Now, therefore, why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon our necks, which neither our fathers, nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).  And we may also use the words as an exhortation: “Let us break the bands of sin, the heavy yoke wherewith the wicked, though thinking themselves free, are in reality bound.  By bonds we are restrained from doing what we would; by cords we are made to do that which we would not.

Their bonds. Who are they?  Some will have it that the words, uttered by the Jews, denote the Father and the Son, since the Jews in dishonoring Christ dishonored His Father also.  Others see in the plural word a reference to Christ and the Apostles.  If we take the verse as the utterance of the Saints, it may well refer not only to their acceptance of the law of liberty, but to their overthrow of Pagan idolatry.  A Greek Father, most singularly of all, puts the words in the mouth of Angels who were spectators of the Passion, expressing their eagerness to deliver their King from His enemies.

2:4  He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn: the Lord shall have them in derision.

He that dwelleth in heaven. Where notice, that it is said of our Lord, while engaged in His work on earth, He that dwelleth-not that dwelt-in heaven.  And so St Thomas teaches us in his Eucharistic hymn:

The Word of God, Proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not the Father’s side,
And going to His work on earth,
Has reached at length life’s eventide.

Shall laugh them to scorn, by turning all their devices to their own confusion.  “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of  the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).  They thought to put Christ to death, and by His death He destroyed death.  They thought to root out His Name from under heaven, and it had dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the world’s end (see Zech 9:10).  They thought to ind Him in the grave, and they did but make the truth of His Resurrection more manifest.  The Lord shall have them in derision.  Though therefore, O Christian, take courage when thou art had in derision of men; remembering that the triumph of the wicked is but short, and that the shame and contempt of  which David writes are everlasting.

2:6  Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Sion.

Yet I have set my King upon my holy hill. Thus He was owned by the wise men: thus by the thief, “Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  Thus in the title of His Cross: “The King of the Jews” (Matt 27:37).

Yet have I set my King & c. The LXX., Vulgate, and Ethiopic versions read here, putting the words into the mouth of Christ, Yet I have been set as King by Him, &c. Even here, while proud men refused My yoke, I was King in Adullam, over everyone that was in distress, but now, made Head of the Church, I am se upon the throne of Sion, over the Jewish people first, then over the Gentiles too.  Set. As David made Solomon king, but not taking the honor to Himself, before being called of God.  (King in Adullam-A reference to the fact that when King Saul in his pride sought David’s life, David-who had secretly been anointed king- fled to that place and was joined by beleaguered and oppressed people.  No matter how many proud men rise against the rule of the true king, he will always have some loyal followers and subjects~see 1 Sam 22:2But now made Head of the Church-David came to be recognized as leader of all Israel only after much persecution; in this he pre-figured Christ.)

2:7  I will preach the law, whereof the Lord hath said unto me” Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

I will preach the law. But why one law?  Because the end and sum of all the commandments is one, namely, love-the leaf, as we saw, that will not wither: the new commandment given unto us, that we love one another.  An allusion to Psalm 1:3 and an interpretation given to it in the Enchiridion of St Augustine.

This day: That is, from all eternity; for in eternity there is neither past nor future.  Again, on the authority of St Paul, it alludes more especially to the Resurrection (Acts 13:33).  Nor is it wrong to refer the words to the Baptism of the Lord, seeing that then there came “a Voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son” (Matt 3:17).

Preach the law. Literally, declare the decree, a possible reference to the Divine promise of adopting the House of David, “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son” (2 Sam 7:14).  The words apply not only to the eternal generation of the Consubstantial Word, but to the especial day when the tidings were brought by the Archangel to the Maiden at Nazareth.  Again, it may be fitly taken of the Nativity itself; or still better, of the Resurrection, whereby Christ was “declared to be Son of God with power” (Rom 1:4), and the “first-begotten of the dead” (rev 1:5).  And, once more, this day denotes the time of grace, in which the “Dayspring from on high” was sent to drive away the night of the world.

2:8  Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance: and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Desire of me. And how did He desire it, but by His death?  By that sacrifice, of so infinite value that nothing is too great for it to obtain, He intercedes for us in three ways.  By word,-as when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  By deed,-as when He shows for us the wounds in His Hands and His Feet; and y influence, as when He causes His people to intercede one for the other.  And this prophecy was in part fulfilled when he said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20).   I shall give thee. In that Christ is God, with the Father he gives all things; in that He is man, from the Father He receives all things.  The heathen for thine inheritance. No mention is here made of the Jews, because, as the Apostle speaks, they counted themselves unworthy of the grace of God (Acts 13:46).  And note how completely the Psalms and the Gospel accord.  After “This day have I begotten Thee,” follows, “I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance.”  And after the Resurrection, the Lord commanded, “Go ye, and teach all nations” (Matt 28:19).  This particular passage comes from Rupert, and it needs to be said that on the basis of an isolated quotation one cannot determine what his overall views were regarding the Jewish People in relation to Christ.  suffice it to say that in the context of this commentary, the statement needs to be balanced with what was said earlier.

2:9  Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron: and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

With a rod of iron. This may refer to the punishment of the wicked in this life, when God is often pleased to bruise them, if perchance their hearts may be softened.  But in the next, they shall be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel, which cannot be mended, because there is no place for repentance in the grave.  Or, again, if we refer the verse to the Jews, the rod of iron is the Roman Empire, the fourth kingdom, which, as Daniel speaks, shall be strong as iron (Dan 2:40).  This was the scepter of iron with which they were punished, who put into the hand of God a reed for a scepter.  Technically, it was Roman soldiers who did this, but only after Jesus was rejected as King by many of His countrymen (Matt 27:22, 29; John 18:39-40).

Like a potter’s vessel. By taking all earthly desires and affections away from the soul, leaving it pure and clear, as the lamps which shone out when Gideon broke the pitchers (Judges 7:20).

2:10  Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be learned, ye that are judges of the earth,

Be wise now therefore, O ye Kings: Because He that is the King of kings reveals Himself as Eternal Wisdom.  Be learned, ye  that are judges of the earth, by the example of him who may be called Satan’s Judge, and who killed the Prince of Life.  A reference to the morally arbitrary judgment of Pilate.

They are kings, who rule over whatever is servile and base, and animal in their own natures: they are judges of the earth, who look down upon earthly things, and rate them at their true worth, taught by the example of Christ, and observe, that as three qualities go to make up a good king, valor against foes, wisdom in crossing the better part, and steadfast intention in fulfilling an appointed end, so these qualities are typified by the gifts which the three wise kings brought to Christ at His Epiphany.  This paragraph is from St Albert Magnus (i.e., the Great).  Here he is giving what makes for a good king and judge, and it stands in marked contrast to Pilate.  Pilate did not show valor against his foes but played the coward; neither did he show wisdom by heeding the wise advice of his wife; nor did he remain steadfast in purpose (see Matt 27:15-26).  As a politician he showed himself to be a “souper candidate” for high office.

2:11  Serve the Lord in fear: and rejoice unto him with reverence.

In fear. The difference between the fear of God and the fear of the world is to be noted.  The one shrinks from sin, the other from punishment; the one influences our thoughts, the other only our actions.  And thus the schoolmen have distinguished for kinds of fear: the fear of man, by which we are led rather to do wrong than to suffer evil; servile fear, through which we are induced to avoid sin only from dread of hell-and this fear, taken by itself, was, till later and laxer times , always held to be sinful (this is at one and the same time an overstatement and an oversimplification); thirdly, initial fear, in which we avoid sin partly from the fear of hell, but partly also from the love of God, which is the fear of ordinary Christians; and filial fear, when we are afraid to disobey God only and altogether from the love we bear Him, which is the fear of the Saints.  Rejoice, because of the reward laid up for God’s servants; and yet with reverence, because we may come short of it.

2:12  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way: if his wrath be kindled, (yea, but a little), blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Kiss: expressing thereby, as to a monarch, both love and awe.  ye perish from the right way. Here, again, the Psalms and the New Testament give the same warning, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you?” (Gal 5:7).  So David and St Paul teach, that, after for awhile running our race with patience, we may nevertheless finally be lost.  And we may do this, if His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little: Therefore we are warned against little beginnings of sin.  Blessed are all that put their trust in Him: because, “in a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, says the Lord, thy Redeemer” (Isa 54:8).

Kiss the Son. The translation being used by my source adopts the Syriac rendering.  This is the rendering of the KJV,  NKJV, NIV, ESV, and ASV.  Young’s Literal translation has “Kiss the Chosen One.”  The Douay-Rheims, following the Vulgate and based upon manuscripts of the LXX has “Embrace discipline” (The Hebrew verb nashaq can have the meaning of touch or handle).   Konrad Schaefer, in his studied of the psalms in the Berit Olam Series accepts “kiss.”  Other translations have “serve the Lord.”  St Jerome and Symmachus prefer “worship purely.”

Take hold, as of a protection and shield in battle.  As I just mentioned above, the word nashaq (kiss, embrace) can have the meaning of hold, or even “to take up arms”.  The word is used in this sense in Ps 78:9-”The children of Ephraim, being armed…”  Given the note of rebellion against the king with which this psalm opens, perhaps a martial rendering at the end is not out of place.  The Hebrew nashaq bar could read “embrace, (take up, be armed with) the Son (heir).”  Be a soldier in his service (2 Tim 2:1-4).

Take hold as of a thing that flies from you, and must be seized in the instant, though that thing be the discipline of a chastising God, which the Christian is to take patiently, as from a loving Father’s hand.   This calls to my mind Hebrews 12:1-13.

Wherefore: Glory be to the Father, who hath begotten the Son today, that is, eternally, and hath set Him as King, and heard His desire as that of a Priest; glory e to the Son, Who desireth the Father for us, and possesseth the nations for an inheritance unto the utmost parts of the earth; glory to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Blessedness wherewith blessed are all they that pur their trust in Him.  As it is in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.  Amen.

Collects used with this Psalm:

Break in sunder, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the chains of our sins; that, taking upon us Thy light yoke and easy burden, we may serve Thee, with fear and reverence, all the days of our life, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, one God forever and ever. Amen. (St Thomas Aquinas)

O Christ the Word of the Father, against Whom the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together; give unto Thy Church to obtain the victory which she desires over all her enemies, that the sword of her persecutors may be sheathed, and the faith of them that believe in Thee may be established.Mozarabic Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent.

O God, the Father of the Only-begotten Son, Who dwellest in heaven, and Who turnest to derision those that rise up against Thy Christ; give us this special grace, that we may never yield to adversities, to the end that the unbelief of them that know Thee not may be confounded, and the faith of them that cling to Thee may be crowned.-Mozarabic, Collect in Holy Week.

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