In the book of Acts (4:25), this psalm is attributed to David. After he had made Zion his royal residence, the Philistines made two attempts to unseat him as king. Both times they suffered humiliating defeat. (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 1 Chronicles 14:8-17) It appears that their futile efforts to overthrow David provided the historical background for this psalm, which first-century Christians came to recognize as being fulfilled in the plotting against Jesus Christ, the one greater than King David. (Acts 4:23-30) The psalm itself is, in fact, framed in such exalted language as to suggest developments of greater significance than those in David’s life.
In this context, the opening Hebrew word mah (why) suggests astonishment, surprise, or amazement regarding the defiant course the nations had adopted. There was no possibility that their conspiring or plotting would succeed. All the efforts of nations or peoples would be in vain or futile.
The words “kings” and “rulers” are parallel expressions. These kings of the earth, or rulers of the land known to the psalmist, set themselves in opposition to YHWH and his anointed one. They consulted together in formulating a plot against them. As earthlings, they could not directly attack YHWH but would be doing so when attempting to assault his anointed one.
The kings or rulers did not want any restraining bonds to be imposed on them. They determined to break such bonds and to toss any restrictive cords away from themselves.
The psalmist portrays YHWH as the Sovereign seated in the heavens. To the Most High, the plotting of puny rulers and nations against him and his anointed one proved to be laughable. Therefore, these kings and their subjects were objects of his laughter and scorn.
In response to their aligning themselves against him and his anointed one, YHWH would express his wrath. The outpouring of his fury would strike rulers and nations with terror.
YHWH had firmly established his anointed one as king on Mount Zion. Because the ark of the covenant (representative of his presence) was located there, Zion was his holy mountain.
The decree of YHWH may refer to the covenant promise conveyed through Nathan to David. That decree assured the anointed one of being YHWH’s son and entitled to request nations as his heritage and, therefore, as his subjects, and “the ends of the earth” or distant land areas as his possession. (2 Samuel 7:12-16; compare Acts 2:30-34.)
As YHWH’s anointed one, he was granted the authority to crush all who opposed him, breaking them to pieces as with an iron rod and smashing them to bits as if they were earthenware.
To avoid ruin, the kings are urged to respond wisely, taking the warning to heart. They should serve YHWH or submit to him by acknowledging the anointed one as sovereign and manifesting wholesome fear. Besides trembling in expression of their profound awe, they were to rejoice, evidently because of having such a noble king—YHWH’s choice—as sovereign.
The usual Hebrew word for “son” is ben. In verse 12, however, the term is bar, the Aramaic word for “son.” With a different vowel pointing, the two consonants could mean cleanness or purity. So the expression “kiss the son” could signify doing an act of homage in purity or in sincerity. Submission could be indicated by kissing the feet. In their renderings, a number of translations render “kiss the son” according to the apparent significance of the act—“bow down in homage” (NAB), “pay homage in good faith” (Tanakh), and “show respect to his son” (CEV). Additionally, a number of translations link the “trembling” to this act of homage and omit the reference to “rejoicing.” The Septuagint, however, includes “rejoicing,” and it does convey something meaningful. Instead of “kiss the son,” the Septuagint reads, “grasp discipline,” which suggests heeding the directive to act wisely.
Those failing to submit would incur either the son’s or YHWH’s anger. In view of the reference to serving YHWH (verse 11), the more likely significance is his anger. This is made explicit in The New American Bible, “lest God be angry and you perish from the way.” The Septuagint reading (“lest the Lord be angered”) supports this rendering.
For rebellious ones to perish from the way would signify that, while in pursuit of their defiant course, sudden destruction would befall them. The warning is added that stubborn defiance would quickly kindle divine wrath.
In sharp contrast to the fate of all who defy YHWH, those who take refuge in him would be favored with protection and aid. Their situation would be enviable. They are rightly pronounced fortunate or happy.
In Acts 13:33, the words from Psalm 2:7 (“You are my son; today I have begotten you”) are quoted and applied to Jesus’ being raised from the dead. The Septuagint and the quotation in Acts are identical, as also are the quotations in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.
The Septuagint (in verse 12) adds “righteous” after “way” and (instead of “take refuge”) uses a form of the word peítho, which, in this context, denotes “trust.”
See Psalm 1 regarding the term “happy” or “fortunate.”
Concerning the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.