Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
- Psalm 2:10-12
While many people are talking about what is going on in Washington DC and are growing dismayed by all the turmoil and conflict, some are noticing what is going on in the rest of the world and are alarmed. Nuclear weapons and delivery systems are proliferating, a number of nations have grown increasingly assertive and aggressive. The “new world order” and “the end of history” proclaimed at the end of the Cold War are now on the dust heap. It turns out that the human heart is still, in its natural state, “deceitful and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9) so that out of it naturally proceed “the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” (Mark 7:21-23) The hearts of humans need to come under new management, a new rule. The rotten kingdoms of self and Satan will always produce rivalries and war instead of cooperation and peace.
Psalm 2 is addressed, in the first place, to the rulers of this world. Whether elected to their offices or by other means, those who rule over others need to understand what God is saying in Psalm 2. We sometimes think the Bible only speaks to individuals in their personal relation to God. Not so, for it also has commands and advice for people in their positions of responsibility. These positions run the whole range, each having their specific instructions from God. Children, parents, wives, husbands, teachers, pastors, buyers, sellers, judges, servants, masters, judges, and yes, rulers of nations, along with all the other stations of service, are responsible to God and required to give account to Him for their conduct in them. Even a nation such as ours, that rejects any religious test for holding office, is accountable to God.
This is a messianic psalm, meaning that it has as its ultimate reference, the Messiah (the Anointed One) in these “last days”(Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:1; James 5:3) in which we have been living ever since the Messiah, Jesus, appeared on earth. It pictures the rulers of the world ranging themselves against God and His Son and saying “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!” (Verse 3) Of course, no such explicit and conscious conspiracy is required. It is sufficient that the rulers of this world simply ignore and disobey the King whom God has installed over them. (Psalm 2:6) Thus, in their rivalries with, and their conspiracies against, each other they are united in this one thing: “God’s Son shall not rule over us!” The rulers are just doing what sinful man has been doing toward God since the Fall in the Garden but now that the Messiah has come they are also rebelling against His Son. Moreover, the Son has come with specific orders for them, and all mankind, to obey. He gave these orders on many occasions but they are especially recorded for us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49).
But long before the Son was born of the Virgin, as prophesied of old, some strong indications of what His commandments would be were spoken through the prophets. In Psalm 46, we have the following words, spoken of and by Him who would be born hundreds of years later: Come, behold the works of the Lord, who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:8-10) The words “Cease striving” are not just talking about being still within. They also mean, “Stop fighting!” Notice the preface to these words. They are that the Lord will make desolations in the earth and will make wars cease to the ends of the earth. These two things are not contradictory. Psalm 2 is a warning to the rulers of the world that if they don’t submit to the rule of God’s Son they will perish. (verse 12) How does this work?
When Jesus spoke to the people of Israel He warned them that their rejection of Him and His teaching would result in destruction for the nation (Luke 19:41-44) within a generation (Matthew 24:34). And so it came to pass that exactly forty years (a Biblical generation) later, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and enslaving many more. Their leaders had led them away from Christ and His commands. The result was disaster for them. But what was true for God’s people Israel then is just as true for the rest of the nations now, especially those who long had access to, and over some period of time, professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah. When these nations continued striving with one another over the centuries and plundering the “heathen” nations, they were “storing up wrath for…the day of wrath.” (Romans 2:5) The day of wrath came as two world wars, the “cold war”, the current “war on terror” and now the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and national rivalries raises the specter of even worse desolations in the earth.
As with Israel in the first century just after God had installed His Son as King of kings and Lord of lords, when their rejection of Him and His way led to a desolation of their nation so now, in the last hundred years and counting, God has allowed us likewise to eat the fruit of our own ways. It is up to us to decide how long and how much devastation will prevail in this world. When we’ve finally had enough of it, then we will finally obey God’s Son. The rulers of this world, including cruel dictators, are helpless without the consent of many people. The fewer people there are who are susceptible to their war-mongering and appeals to our baser motives, the less they will be able to flaunt the will of the King God has installed over us: Jesus! And then it will be that He will “make wars to cease to the end of the earth.” (Psalm 46:9) When the world’s leaders (and their peoples) learn to fear God’s Son more than each other, wars will stop. And then they will know indeed, “How blessed are those who take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 2:12) So let us continue to trust in and follow Jesus, “the Prince of Peace” whose word is now the standard by which both the rulers and the ruled will be judged. And let us continue to spread His word until the demagogues and ideologues of fear will no longer be able to raise a following.