Psalm 2

Dear Reader,

I would like to continue my examination of the psalter with psalm 2. Here is how I would translate the psalm:

“Why do nations rage and peoples devise vainly,

The kings of earth take their stand and princes assemble together

Against the Lord and against his anointed (Hebrew: messiah).

‘Let us break his fetters and let us throw off from us his ropes.’

He who sits in heaven laughs; The lord will mock them.

Then he will speak against them in his anger and in his wrath he will terrify them:

‘But as for me I installed my king upon Zion my holy mount.’

I will recount the decree of the Lord.

He said to me, ‘You [are] my son. I today begot you.

Ask me and I will give nations [as] your inheritance and [as] your possession the ends of the earth.

You will break them with an iron rod; like the potters vessel you will shatter them.’

And now, kings, pay attention and be chastened, judges of earth.

Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss his feet lest he be angry and you perish [in the] way for his anger quickly will burn

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

While there is a lot of parallelism in this psalm, it is not as tightly woven together as the first psalm. It should be noted that the Hebrew initially contained no punctuation and even now our Hebrew Bibles do not have things like quotation marks. I have supplied them where I think they should go, as any translation would. In this psalm, I don’t think there is much dispute, but that is not always the case.

The message of this psalm is that the earth, and in particular its dominions, belong to the Lord. The kings do not heed God and indeed plot against Him and His anointed king (vv.1-3). But God will retaliate. He will be the one to laugh at them (v.4). In their place, He will put his anointed king who is called His son (vv. 6-7). To this king He will give the earth and nations as an inheritance (v. 8), and he will destroy the kings like a clay pot (v. 9). The conclusion is a call to the kings to understand and to submit to God lest His anger burn against them (vv. 10-12). And finally the last phrase promises blessing to those who will take their refuge in the Lord (v. 12).

It is significant to me that the king is here called a son and is begotten (v. 7). This is not usual language for the Old Testament regarding its kings. It would be normal for the surrounding nations where the king might claim a level of divinity to legitimate his throne. Israel never had such illusions about its kings.

I would not, however, translate “son” in verse 12. The phrase which I have translated “kiss his feet” is rendered in the psalter and most English translations “kiss the son.” This is not how the Hebrew reads, however. The key word “bar” does sound like the Aramaic word for son. It is not the Hebrew word “ben” which is used in v. 7. Though latter parts of the bible are in Aramaic, this psalm is not and it is anachronistic to read the later Aramaic word here. Furthermore, it has no article or possessive pronoun. All the translations supply either “his” or “the” before son. Really it would be like reading an English sentence which all of a sudden has a Spanish (or another language) word in it for no reason. For example it might be “kiss hijo.” As one reads through the psalm in Hebrew it makes no sense.

Instead, I would translate here “kiss his feet.” This is assuming that the Hebrew line has been cut off and that the last few letters of the word “feet” are missing.

Apart from this textual issue, I would like to use this psalm to discuss the kinds of additions and changes our psalter makes. There are 4 versions (A through D) of this psalm in the new psalter. The first 3 (2B is actually identical to 2C and 2A is very similar) I find to be preferable to the last one. All, however, supply some extra material to fill out verses. In 2A, B and C, verbs are added in the second half of verse two so that “against the Lord and against his anointed” becomes “They speak out against the Lord; His Messiah they defy.” In verse six, these three versions all add “Yet according to my will” at the beginning of the verse and “My Anointed will remain” at the end. I guess my question is: are these insignificant changes? I accept that we will have to sometimes add words to make the psalm fit the music. But when we do so, I think we should try to add material that is as innocuous as possible. The additional verbs in verse 2 do not bother me too much. They seem to just extend the thought that is already there. The additions to verse 6 may not be huge either but to me they seem to supply more new material. Such assessments are subjective and you may disagree about the significance of these particular ones. But isn’t one of the big benefits of singing the psalms supposed to be that they are God’s word and we don’t have to worry about and debate their veracity?

The fourth selection, 2D, has even more problems. I find it quite expansive. For instance, verse 6 which I have translated “‘But as for me I installed my king upon Zion my holy mount” reads “This is the King whom I appointed, I consecrated Him as Mine. Upon Mount Zion I have done this, the mountain of My Holy Shrine.” The added words here are: “This is . . . I consecrated Him as Mine . . . I have done this . . . shrine.” I think there is also a change in emphasis here. The Hebrew uses the first person pronoun at the beginning of the verse. This is not necessary in Hebrew which like other languages (Spanish and Greek among others) includes the person in the verb form. In fact, the subject pronoun is not used very often in Hebrew. Its use emphases God as the active agent in this verse. In the psalm as a whole, it strikes me that it is the Lord who is to be feared. His power contrasts the empty plans of the earthly kings. The psalter misses this when is changes the structure of verse 6. Instead of the emphasis on God’s action, the emphasis is now on the king he appoints (“This is the King whom I appointed”). One may argue that the psalm is messianic and the King is Jesus and therefore the emphasis is either not really changed (Jesus being God) or that the emphasis should in fact be on the king/messiah. I would argue that we must first understand the psalm as we have it and then decide if it is messianic. We may not conclude it refers to Jesus and then translate it to fit our conception.

This is, I am afraid, a pet peeve of mine. Too often I think Christians start with a doctrine they want to discuss and then find passages which they twist to fit the doctrine. The point they are making may be perfectly valid and biblical but that doesn’t mean any biblical passage one selects will support it. We must take the text as it is and see what it is saying to us rather than make it over to say what we want it to say.

Getting back to the psalm, verse 8 which I translated “Ask me and I will give nations [as] your inheritance and [as] your possession the ends of the earth” is rendered in 2D “Your heritage has now begun; On You I will bestow the nations, however distant they may be.” To me this is completely different. The Hebrew has a conditional promise: if you (my king) ask, I will (in the future) give you this inheritance. The psalm selection takes away the conditional “ask” and declares the inheritance already in effect.

There are other changes in this psalm selection. I have focused on the ones which to me seem most obvious and present the biggest changes. Next time: Psalm 3.


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