Psalm 2 is the second Psalm of the Bible. It tells us that people can either defy God and perish, or submit to him and be blessed. Psalm 2 does not identify its author with a superscription. Acts 4:24-26 in the New Testament attributes it to David.
Text and background
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 ¶ I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
10 ¶ Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
In Jewish tradition
- Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a: "Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), 'Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee', as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance" (Psalms ii. 7-8).
- Genesis Rabbah 44:8 R. Jonathan said: "Three persons were bidden 'ask', viz.: Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: Ask what I shall give thee (1 Kings III, 5). Ahaz: Ask thee a sign (Isa. VII, 11). The King Messiah: Ask of Me, etc. (Ps. II, 8)."
- Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (9th century), Section 28, on verse 1: All the nations will be gathered together to fight with the Son of David, as it is said: The kings of the earth set themselves, etc. 
- Rashi (11th century): Our teachers interpreted the subject of this Psalm with reference to King Messiah, but according to its plain meaning it will be right to expound it of David himself."
- Midrash on Psalms (11th century): This day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7). R. Huna said: Suffering is divided into three portions: one, the Patriarchs and all the generations of men took; one, the generation that lived in the time of [Hadrian's] persecution took; and one, the generation of the lord Messiah will take. When the time comes, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say: "I must create the Messiah -- a new creation." As Scripture says, This day have I begotten thee—that is, on the very day of redemption, God will create the Messiah. Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession (Ps. 2:8). God, speaking to the Messiah, says: If thou dost ask for dominion over the nations, already they are thine inheritance; if for the ends of the earth, already they are thy possession. R. Johanan taught: To three men—Solomon, Ahaz, and the lord Messiah—the Holy One, blessed be He, said, "Ask of me." To Solomon, as is written In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said: "Ask what I shall give thee" (1 Kings 3:5). To Ahaz, as is written "Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above" (Isa. 7:11)....To the lord Messiah, as is written Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
- Maimonides (11th century), introduction to Sanhedrin, chapter 10: The prophets and the saints have longed for the days of the Messiah, and great has been their desire towards him, for there will be with him the gathering together of the righteous and the administration of good, and wisdom, and royal righteousness, with the abundance of his uprightness and the spread of his wisdom, and his approach to God, as it is said: The Lord said unto me, Thou art my son, to-day have I begotten thee.
- David Kimchi (13th century), comment on verse 12: There are those who interpret this psalm of Gog and Magog, and the "anointed" as the King Messiah; and thus did our rabbis of blessed memory interpret it (b. Berachot 7b).
- Yalkut (13th century), Section 621 On verse 7: R. Huna said in the name of R. Idi, In three parts were the punishments divided: one for King Messiah, and when His hour cometh the Holy One, blessed be He, saith, I must make a new covenant with Him, and so He saith, To-day have I begotten thee. On verse 9: "Thou wilt bruise them with a rod of iron"; this is Messiah ben Joseph.
In Christian tradition
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (1708-12), verses 1-6 are viewed as threats against Christ's kingdom, verses 7-9 as promise to Christ as the head of this kingdom, and verses 10-12 as counsel to all to serve Christ.
In Adam Clarke's commentary, verses 1-3 are viewed as opposition raised against the kingdom of Christ; verses 4-6 as Christ's victory, and the confusion of his enemies; verses 7-9 as the promulgation of the Gospel after his resurrection; and verses 10-12 as a call to all to accept it, because those who reject it will perish.
In a most animated and highly poetical style, the writer, in "four stanzas of three verses each," sets forth the inveterate and furious, though futile, hostility of men to God and His anointed, God's determination to carry out His purpose, that purpose as stated more fully by His Son, the establishment of the Mediatorial kingdom, and the imminent danger of all who resist, as well as the blessing of all who welcome this mighty and triumphant king.
English-speaking Protestant Christians commonly (but not always) translate verse 12 as "Kiss the son", as in the King James Version. The most common Jewish interpretation is "Embrace purity", an interpretation close to that of Catholics, who traditionally, following the Vulgate, have translated the phrase as "Embrace discipline". To translate as "Kiss the son", the word "bar" must be read as Aramaic ("son", while in Hebrew "son" is "ben") rather than Hebrew (purity) or Septuagint and Vulgate "discipline", "training", "teaching". (The New American Bible somehow combines verses 11 and 12 of the other Bibles into a whole new verse 11.) Some Jewish authors have accused Protestant Christians of arbitrarily choosing to interpret the word as in a different language, in order to give the text a meaning more favourable to Christians ("son", understood as Christ). In defence, Protestants point to other places in the Bible where isolated Aramaic words are found in Hebrew (e.g. the same word "bar" occurring in Proverbs 31:2), and say that the word "son" is also used in verse 7 of the same Psalm, that "son" is used to refer to Messiah in both Jewish and Christian traditions, and that even in a Jewish interpretation the Psalm is considered messianic.
Verses 8 and 9 are also regarded as a controversial call for genocide by some.
In 1567, Thomas Tallis set Psalm 2, "Why fum'th in fight", for 9 Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter.
Psalm 2 is one of the psalms used in George Frideric Handel's Messiah, where it is featured prominently towards the end of Part II. There is a long-standing custom of standing after verse 9 in Handel's Messiah.
- Acts 4:24–26 It is also called "the second psalm" in Acts 13:32–33.
- Jews for Jesus
- Soncino Talmud edition
- Soncino Midrash Rabbah (vol. 1, pp. 365-366)
- A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 123.
- A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, pp. 122-123.
- Williams G. Braude, translator, The Midrash on Psalms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, © 1959; Yale Judaica Series), vol. 1, pp. 41-44.
- A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 122.
- A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 121.
- A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, pp. 121-122.
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Psalm 2
- Clarke's Commentary on Psalm 2