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Psalm 2

Why do nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”

The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

I recently started playing checkers with my kids. Before we could play, I had to teach them the rules of the game and some basic strategies. We spent about an hour playing together and then I left them to play on their own.

Now, if you don’t know, my kids are 9 and 7 – and so rules are hard to remember, let alone follow, especially for a new game. Pretty quickly the actual rules got thrown out the window and each one started making up their own rules and ways to play the game – naturally, these “new” rules made it easier for them to capture the other’s pieces and made it “against the rules” for the opponent to make a move that captured one of their pieces.

Eventually the game devolved into yelling, piece throwing, and stomping off because, “He is being unfair.” and “She is changing the rules so I can’t jump her.” 

Each one made their own rules that didn’t coincide or fit with the rules of the other and chaos ensued. Each one tried to strong arm the little world of the checkers board to bend to their respective will – but what happens when you have the unstoppable force of a 7-year-old meet the immovable object that is his 9-year-old sister’s will? Like I said, chaos. 

But also, the game stopped being played… and so, the joy of the game, the fellowship of competition, and the laughter of meaningful time together ended. 

While this little story is anecdotal and perhaps cute (especially for parents who are past this stage of child raising), it is a microcosm of the same root issue that Psalm 2 is prophetically commenting on. “Why do nations conspire and peoples plot in vain?” As humans – whether as children or as kings and rulers – it is our (rebellious and fallen) nature to want absolute freedom through the idolatry of the self; this is the definition of vanity. We stand against the Lord – as one, but individualized, and so not together, saying, “Let us break [the] chains and throw off [the] shackles” – where the chains and shackles are the rules and reign of God; the direction he provides for life lived in faithfulness to his design. We think we know better. We think we can do better. We think we can discern a way to play the game of life that will guarantee my success – even if that means (or requires) the failure of others. It is not just anarchists whose hearts cry, “Ni dieu ni maître!” (French, “Neither God nor master”) – this has been the pervasively depraved heart of every person since the rebellion of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. (Notice in that story the serpent didn’t just lie; in fact, he didn’t even lie first. He asked, “Did God really say…?” The question is planting the seed of doubt and cultivating it into a mistrust of God, “You know better.”  This is followed by the lie, “You will not certainly die.” [Though it is misleading, for while death was not immediate, it was previously impossible, and now it has become immanent – and thus, certain.] And then the Serpent follows up with the vainglorious “God knows you will become like him…” And in our pride, who doesn’t think themselves a god [at least of our own making]?)

Instead, Psalm 2 shows us the way of wisdom (vs. 10): “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (2:3) To “kiss his son” is to live for him, rest in him, and serve him with humility and devotion. Contrary to our hearts still stuck in sin and darkness, the way to experience joy and freedom – the way to avoid destruction and wrath (vs. 12) – is to submit to God’s will for life. With Thomas we say, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

After the impossibility of escaping or being missed by God – either in anger and wrath or with fear and celebration – the Psalmist concludes, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Which only proves Derek Kidner right when he says, “there is no refuge from him – only in him.”[1]

Likewise, the only way to find refuge in him is to know his Son. God looks at human vanity and pride, looks at our self-centered rebellion, and inflated sense of our own capabilities, and responds by installing his Son on Zion, in Jerusalem. And while the immediate referent for the nations of the world in the day of Psalm 2 would be the king of Israel; the fuller meaning is for the one of whom the earthly king is but a shadow (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1). Jesus is the one where justice and mercy meet. Jesus is the one where submission and freedom come together in perfect harmony. And submitting to him, and to one another out of reverence to him (Eph. 5:21), is where real life is found. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1) and so we deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily (Lk. 9:23), and willingly pay the cost of being his disciple (Lk. 14:25f).

After my kids’ tempers calmed and we could return to the checkers board, I reminded them of the rules and structures of the game; we played it together, encouraging each other, offering help and advice – and a little reminder of correction every once and while – and the joy of the game returned! We had fun, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company again. The rules brought freedom; the design had a purpose and it brought joy.

I’m sure there is a parable there…

Lord Jesus, help me to see past the chaos that comes from self-centered living and see the truth of freedom in you. Replace my pride with prayer and my vanity with devotion. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary, 5.