St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 2 (with some supplemental notes by me)

Text in red are my additions.

Psa 2:1  Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?
Psa 2:2  The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.

It is said, “why?” as if it were said, in vain. For what they wished, namely, Christ’s destruction, they accomplished not; for this is spoken of our Lord’s persecutors, of whom also mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 4:25-26).

The Hebrew text here translated as Christ is משׁיחו׃, in Greek, χριστου (Christou) “anointed.” The Psalm was probably originally composed to celebrate the coronation of a king of the line of David, which would include an anointing (1 Kings 1:32-40). The Psalm has connections with the dynastic promises made to David in 2 Sam 7:8-16; with the lament over the defeat of a davidic king in Psalm 89:19-37; with the Royal Psalm 110; and with the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-7. The plotting of peoples and rulers is often taken as foreshadowing the machinations against Christ (Matt 22:15; Matt 27:1; Mark 3:6).

Psa 2:3  Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us.

Although it admits of another acceptation, yet is it more fitly understood as in the person of those who are said to “devise vain things.” So that “let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us,” may be, let us do our endeavour, that the Christian religion do not bind us, nor be placed upon us. Here it would do well to recall the intimate connection between the invocation of this Psalm in Acts 4 and the sufferings of the Apostles (Acts 4:23-30). And see Acts 9:1-5. See also Matt 5:11; Matt 10:22-25.

Psa 2:4  He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them.

The sentence is repeated; for “He that dwelleth in the heavens,” is afterwards put, “the Lord;” and for “shall laugh at them,” is afterwards put, “shall deride them.” Nothing of this however must be taken in a carnal sort, as if God either laugheth with cheek, or derideth with nostril; but it is to be understood of that power which He giveth to His saints, that they seeing things to come, namely, that the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations, should understand that those men “devise a vain thing.” For this power whereby these things are foreknown is God’s “laughter” and “derision.” “He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them.” If by “heaven” we understand holy souls, by these God, as foreknowing what is to come, will “laugh at” and “deride them.”

The parallelism noted by St Augustine is typical of the OT. It may be outlined thus:

A1) He that dwelleth in heaven

B1) shall laugh at them:

A2) and the Lord

B2) shall deride them.

Note also the contrasting parallel between God who dwells in heaven (4) and the kings of the earth who stand up against Him (2). There is also a word play between these two verses: The kings take action by standing or setting themselves up [יצב = yâtsab] against the God who dwells [literally, “sits”] in heaven [ישׁב = yâshab]. God laughs (4) while the Gentiles rage (1). In verse 4 He derides [literally, mocks, mimics] their devising mentioned in verse 1. The Hebrew word employed there means to mutter or murmur, implying a whispered, secretive act of plotting. God is portrayed as mocking their whispered plans.

Psa 2:5  Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage.

For showing more clearly how He will “speak to them,” he added, He will “trouble them;” so that “in His anger,” is, “in His rage.” But by the anger and rage of the Lord God must not be understood any mental perturbation; but the might whereby He most justly avengeth, by the subjection of all creation to His service. For that is to be observed and remembered which is written in the Wisdom of Solomon, “But Thou, Lord of power, judgest with tranquillity, and with great favour orderest us” (see note 1). The “anger” of God then is an emotion which is produced in the soul which knoweth the law of God, when it sees this same law transgressed by the sinner. For by this emotion of righteous souls many things are made right (see note 2). Although the “anger” of God can be well understood of that darkening of the mind, which overtakes those who transgress the law of God.

Note 1: Augustine, if I understand him rightly, is stating that anger and rage are not emotions in God, rather, as Aquinas notes, anger does not belong to God, but rather to created beings, although at times it is attributed to the Creator by antropopatos (i.e., in human terms. Aquinas, Lecture on Psalm 2). God’s power and might, by which he deals with sin, is called anger or rage, anthropomorphically. Men deal with sin and evil emotionally, with anger, and so the term is applied to God’s actions, a human attempt to “eff” the ineffable. Human anger, it should be noted, is not always evil. See the Summa Theologicæ II-II, Q. 158, articles 1 & 2.

Note 2: Man exhibits the so-called “anger” of God emotionally when he deals with sin, “for, as Augustine notes above, “by this emotion of righteous souls many things are made right.” In his commentary on Psalm 6 Augustine writes: “Yet this emotion (anger) must not be attributed to God, as if to a soul, of whom it is said, “but Thou, O Lord of power, judgest with tranquillity.” Now that which is tranquil, is not disturbed. Disturbance then does not attach to God as judge: but what is done by His ministers, in that it is done by His laws, is called His anger. In which anger, the soul, which now prays, would not only not be reproved, but not even chastened, that is, amended or instructed.”

Psa 2:6  But I am appointed king by him over Sion, his holy mountain, preaching his commandment.

This is clearly spoken in the Person of the very Lord our Saviour Christ. But if Sion signify, as some interpret, beholding, we must not understand it of anything rather than of the Church, where daily is the desire raised of beholding the bright glory of God, according to that of the Apostle, “but we with open face beholding the glory of the Lord” (see note 1). Therefore the meaning of this is, Yet I am set by Him as King over His holy Church; which for its eminence and stability He calleth a mountain (see note 2). “Yet I am set by Him as King.” I, that is, whose “bonds” they were devising “to break asunder,” and whose “yoke” to “cast away.” “Preaching His commandment.” Who doth not see the meaning of this, seeing it is daily practised?

Note 1: Augustine interprets Sion as beholding, apparently because the Hebrew word for Sion [ציּון = tsı̂yôn] is related to the word [ציוּן = tsı̂yûn], something conspicuous, meant to be seen, a landmark pillar, etc (see 2 Kings 23:17; Jer 31:21; Ezek 39:15).

Note 2: St Augustine interprets Sion in reference to the Church, “which for (i.e., because of) its eminence and stability He calleth a mountain”. Because of its eminence it is easy to behold, like a mountain or a pillar, figures of stability: “the Church of God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15).

Psa 2:7  The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.

Although that day may also seem to be prophetically spoken of, on which Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh; and in eternity there is nothing past as if it had ceased to be, nor future as if it were not yet, but present only, since whatever is eternal, always is; yet as “today” intimates presentiality, a divine interpretation is given to that expression, “This day have I begotten Thee,” whereby the uncorrupt and Catholic faith proclaims the eternal generation of the power and Wisdom of God, who is the Only-begotten Son.

Is St Augustine talking about what might be called “the eternal now of God”? This eternal “day” I have begotten thee. You have always been, and will always be, my begotten son.

Psa 2:8  Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

This has at once a temporal sense with reference to the Manhood which He took on Himself, who offered up Himself as a Sacrifice in the stead of all sacrifices, who also maketh intercession for us; so that the words, “ask of Me,” may be referred to all this temporal dispensation, which has been instituted for mankind, namely, that the “Gentiles” should be joined to the Name of Christ, and so be redeemed from death, and possessed by God. “I shall give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance,” which so possess them for their salvation, and to bear unto Thee spiritual fruit. “And the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.” The same repeated, “The utmost parts of the earth,” is put for “the nations;” but more clearly, that we might understand all the nations. And “Thy possession” stands for “Thy inheritance.”

The structure of this verse is similar to verse 4 which I outlined above. The present verse may be outlined thus: Ask of me,

A1) and I will give thee the Gentiles

B1) for thy inheritance,

A2) and the utmost parts of the earth

B2) for thy possession.

Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession. Gentiles and earth recall the use of these words in verses 1-2. The Gentiles who raged and the kings of the earth who stood up against the Lord and his Christ are the Christ’s birthright, given him by his Father.

Psa 2:9  Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, and shalt break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Psa 2:10  And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth.

Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, with inflexible justice, and shalt break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel; that is,”Thou shalt break” in them earthly lusts, and the filthy doings of the old man, and whatsoever hath been derived and inured from the sinful clay (see Col 3:5-11; Gen 3:19). “And now, O ye kings, understand”. “And now;” that is, being now renewed, your covering of clay worn out, that is, the carnal vessels of error which belong to your past life, “now understand,” ye who now are “kings;” that is, able now to govern all that is servile and brutish in you, able now too to fight, “not as one beating the air,” but chastening your bodies, and bringing them into subjection (1 Cor 9:26-27). “Receive instructions, you that judge the earth.” This again is a repetition; “Receive instruction” is instead of “understand;” and “you that judge the earth” instead of “ye kings.” For He signifies the spiritual by “those who judge the earth.” For whatsoever we judge, is below us; and whatsoever is below the spiritual man, is with good reason called “the earth;” because it is defiled with earthly corruption.

The structure of this verse is different from the previous verses outlined. Instead of an A1 B1 A2 B2 outline we have this: “And now,

A1) O ye kings,

B1) understand:

B2) receive instruction,

A2) you that judge the earth.”

Psa 2:11  Serve ye the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto him with trembling.

Serve ye the Lord with fear; lest their title, “kings… that judge the earth” (10) turn into pride: And rejoice unto him with trembling. Very excellently is “rejoice” added, lest “serve ye the Lord with fear” should seem to tend to misery. But again, lest this same rejoicing should run on to unrestrained inconsiderateness, there is added “with trembling,” that it might avail for a warning, and for the careful guarding of holiness. It can also be taken thus, “And now, O ye kings, understand;” that is, And now that I am set as King, be ye not sad, kings of the earth, as if your excellency were taken from you, but rather “understand, receive instruction” (10) For it is expedient for you, that ye should be under Him, by whom understanding and instruction are given you. And this is expedient for you, that ye lord it not with rashness, but that ye “serve the Lord” of all “with fear,” and “rejoice” in bliss most sure and most pure, with all caution and carefulness, lest ye fall therefrom into pride.

The call to the rulers to serve contrasts nicely with their attitude in verses 2-3 which was against the Lord, and against his Christ. They sought to escape their role of service by declaring: Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us. Likewise, the call to rejoice and tremble contrasts with their rage (1).

Psa 2:12  Embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the just way.

Embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the just way. This is the same as, “understand,” and, “be instructed.” For to understand and be instructed, this is to embrace discipline. Still in that it is said, “embrace,” it is plainly enough intimated that there is some protection and defence against all things which might do hurt unless with so great carefulness it be laid hold of. “Lest at any time the Lord be angry,” is expressed with a doubt, not as regards the vision of the prophet to whom it is certain, but as regards those who are warned; for they, to whom it is not openly revealed, are wont to think with doubt of the anger of God. This then they ought to say to themselves, let us “embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and we perish from the just way.” Now, how “the Lord be angry” is to be taken, has been said above. And “you perish from the just way.” This is a great punishment, and dreaded by those who have had any perception of the sweetness of justice (righteousness); for he who perisheth from the way of justice (righteousness), in much misery will wander through the ways of unrighteousness.

Embrace discipline contrasts with the breaking of bonds and the casting away of the yoke (images of service) in verse 3.

Psa 2:13 When his wrath shall be kindled in a short time, blessed are all they that trust in him.

That is, when the vengeance shall come which is prepared for the ungodly and for sinners, not only will it not light on those “who put their trust in” the Lord, but it will even avail for the foundation and exaltation of a kingdom for them. For he said not, “When His anger shall be shortly kindled,” safe “are all they that trust in Him,” as though they should have this only thereby, to be exempt from punishment; but he said, “blessed;” in which there is the sum and accumulation of all good things. Now the meaning of “short time” I suppose to be this, that it will be something sudden, whilst sinners will deem it far off and long to come.

When His wrath draws a connection with verse 5:  Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage. The punishment is looming but has not yet come, their is still time to repent and trust that serving the Lord and His Christ is better than rebelling against them.

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