An Examination of Psalm 2
The Psalms have been inspirational for many throughout the centuries. Men and women have cherished them due to their portrait of a wide array of human emotions. They are poems to which we can relate to. The experiences and feelings portrayed have a tendency to envelop us into the poetic drama. As a result, most individuals never take the time to really analyze and dissect the psalms to understand the authors’ full intention of meaning, poetic beauty, and flow of thought. In order to do this, a psalm's structure, as intended by the psalmist, must be sought after.
Several questions must be asked? For instance, What is the structure of the psalm and how is it indicated intrinsically? What imagery is used and how? What bearing does the structure bring to the message of the psalm? What is the central message of the psalm? These questions often go unanswered, if they are even asked at all. In this short exegesis I will attempt to extrapolate the answer to these questions, using the second psalm as a model.
The structure of this psalm is indicated within the Hebrew itself (intrinsic). There are four stanzas of three verses each. This breakdown of the structure is readily witnessed even in the English translations. Using our verse system, the breakdown would be as follows: verses 1-3, then 4-6, then 7-9, and finally 10-12.
The structure of the psalm is divided up into four stanzas of three verses each. The bearing this structure imposes upon the message of the psalm is one of flow and fluidity. It helps us see the author's thought-flow. We start with the ideas and perspective of the heathen in general, and the kings and rulers of the earth specifically (1-3). In the first stanza David is seen contemplating the logic behind these ideas. Next, the perspective of YHWH is given in response to the heathen. This is heaven's perspective (4-6). Then, David declared the decree of YHWH to the heathen nations as though they were present to hear (the use of apostrophe). This pictures the realm being from heaven to earth (7-9). Finally, in the last stanza, David gives instruction, wisdom, admonition and warning to the kings and judges of the heathen nations from his perspective (earthly) through the knowledge of YHWH's decree (10-12).
The psalm starts and ends with the perspective of the earthly realms, and is joined by heaven's perspective along with the communication of that perspective from heaven to earth. The line of communication throughout the psalm is thus: heathen to heathen, YHWH Himself, YHWH to the anointed one to the heathen, and the anointed one to the heathen. It can also be said that the psalm follows this pattern: what the heathen think and say (1-3), YHWH's response (4-6), what YHWH thinks and says (as given through the anointed one-7-9), and what David thinks and says (10-12). The flow of thought shifts smoothly from the heathen to YHWH to the anointed one and back to the heathen.
As with most psalms, there is a lot of poetic imagery. The author, David, used contemplation.1 The psalmist began by contemplating a perplexing and confusing question, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" (1). He went on to develop their ideas and philosophies in the two following verses. The imagery used is that of bondage. The heathen desired to break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords..." (3). These were poetic images to show the reality of the servitude that the heathen were in under the rule of YHWH and His anointed one.
YHWH's response to their perspective is also poetic imagery. David said God would "laugh" and scoff at them (4). God does not have a physical body to be able to physically laugh at the heathen, but David used this imagery to show how little the heathen's perspective affected God. YHWH had no reason to fear their attempts to overthrow Him and His anointed one (2). God simply laughed at their schemes and their efforts knowing that they were futile.
The triumph of the anointed one over the kings and rulers of the earth is pictured as breaking them with an iron rod, and they being broken like a vessel of pottery (9). The severity of their defeat is here shown. They would be utterly defeated, whosoever would attempt to come against YHWH and His anointed one.
Although I have not mentioned much about the meaning of the psalm, focusing rather on its structure and poetic elements, I would like to extrapolate from the psalm the central message as portrayed by David.2 This message is made clearer after one has discovered the intrinsic structure and poetic elements of the psalm. David's central message was that YHWH will overcome all who oppose Him and His anointed one. So instead of fighting against them, one should pay homage to the anointed one and trust in YHWH.
In conclusion, it has been shown that the structure of the psalm is evenly divided into four stanzas of three verses each in the original Hebrew poetry. These breaks are easily seen in the English translations also. The structure of the psalm does not give it additional meaning, but allows the reader to discover the meaning through its fluid-like flow from one perspective to the next. David used the imagery of bondage and power to intensify the message to his readers; the message being that YHWH will overcome all who oppose Him and His anointed one.
1. For evidence of Davidic authorship see Acts 4:25-27. <back>
2. It is not my purpose in this paper to delve into the prophetic elements of this psalm. I am only interpreting it according to its historical perspective, not its anticipatory perspective. There are elements in the psalm that seem to be clearly messianic in nature, but they are not my focus (vs. 7-8, 12). It is known that other elements of the psalm are definitely messianic (See Acts 4:25-27; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5). For the scope of discussion here, the anointed one being referred to is David, the anointed king of Israel, who ruled from Mount Zion. <back>
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