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17. Psalm 2

Consider Psalm 2, particularly verses 6–9. How would you understand the meaning and significance of this psalm, and particularly these verses, in the broader context of the history of ancient Israelite religion and of the religions of other ancient Near Eastern cultures?

Summary: The Psalms have been divided into certain groups. Gunkel first divided them according to certain groups and then Mowinckel expounded upon Gunkel's groups. Many others have expounded upon Gunkel and Mowinckel. One such group is the "Royal Psalms" which are characterized by content that deals specifically with the Judean king. Psalm 2 is such a psalm. Specifically, within the category of "Royal Psalms," Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm that was presumably recited at the coronation of the Judean king. Verse 6 was perhaps pronounced by a prophet while verses 7-9 were pronounced by the Judean king himself at the coronation process. In connection with "Royal Psalms," there are also "enthronement psalms" which Mowinckel suggested were related to an annual festival where YHWH was enthroned as king over Zion. In this supposed annual festival, Mowinckel suggests that the Judean king was also annually enthroned anew which supposedly brought šālôm to the nation. Not everyone agrees with Mowinckel's suggestion of an annual enthronement festival of YHWH.

I. Introduction

One of the most striking features of all early agrarian states, from Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley and Mesoamerica, was the use of religion to establish and preserve the exercise of royal power in a centrally organized society. The enuma eliš is one of the best known state foundation myths which legitimizes the royal status quo. Israelite kingship was no exception in using state religion to legitimize and maintain royal rule (see Ahlström 1982). The king was presented as the chosen of the deity with the right to rule on earth as the god’s representative. Psalm 2 is a picture of this process within ancient Israel. The Psalm shows the coronation of the Judean king as sanctioned by YHWH.

II. Psalm 2 = A Royal Psalm

Psalm 2 belongs to the group of "royal psalms" along with Psalms 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 132, 144:1-11 (Gunkel). The over-arching feature of all these Psalms is that they are entirely concerned with kings; we can assume they relate to Judean kings (Gunkel).

In these psalms, references are made to the "the king" (20:10), "YHWH's annointed" (2:2; 18:51), "YHWH's king" (2:6), "YHWH's servant" (89:51), one who resides in Zion (2:6), David's ancestor (18:51) (Gunkel).

Royal Psalms speak of different royal events:

1) Psa 45, for instance, speaks of a royal marriage; bridegroom described in vv. 2-9 (Israelite king) and bride in vv. 10-15. 

2) On the other hand, some psalms speak of royal battles (Pss 18, 20, 89, 144). King is head of armed forces, and divine aid was expected, and there is a war context in these royal Psalms. King asks for YHWH’s help before war. 

3) Furthermore, Psalm 132 is a celebration of the transition of the tabernacle to the Jerusalem. Solomon brought the Ark into the temple (1 Kgs 8) and the Psalter connects the procession of the Ark with YHWH’s kingship (latter associated with Tabernacles); Ps 132 may reflect cultic elements of that feast. 

III. Sitz im Lebem of Psalm 2 (Coronation Psalms)

A Coronation Psalm

•W/Pss 2 and 110, possibly also 72 and 101 may belong here.

•Coronation setting suggested by divine oracles which contain king 

•Ps 2 “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.”

•Ps 110 “The Lord says to my lord: ‘sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool’…the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

•Book of Kings give us some idea about coronation ceremony (1 Kgs 1:33ff. [Solomon], 2 Ks 11 [Joash])

•Two parts: anointing in sanctuary and coronation in the king’s palace.

•2 Kgs 11:12 states connection w/Joash coronation that Jehoiada the priest put the crown upon him., and gave him the testimony (edut). Not clear what that is, but may be likened to the hoq in Psalm 2 “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I  have begotten you, ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage…”. It seems that we have here an allusion to the document containing YHWH’s promise to the king embodied in Davidic covenant.

•Both accounts also in Kings concern Ps 110:7 “he will drink brook by the way” and in 1 Kgs 1:33f., 38 ref to Gihon.

Psalm 2 & the Coronation Process

An anointing and a corontation festival lies in the background (see 1 Kgs 1.32-40; 2 Kgs 11).  It is not clear, however, how the structure of the psalm reflects the festival itself, to whom the voices belong, except of course the voice of the king.  What is clear, however, is that the imagined situation is an ideal one in which the Israelite king rules over a vast empire of vassals and such.  That this is idealistic does not make it Messianic or post-exilic, but rather confirms the royal ideology that accompanied the coronation of the king.

During the coronation of a Judean king (2Kgs 11:12; also, 1Kgs 1:33ff), the king was crowned, given a document, and anointed. It is suggested that certain Psalms were read during the coronation process (Psa 110, 72, 101); Psalm 2 is one of those Psalms. There are different voices in the Psalm. Verses 1-3 depict nations rebelling against God and his king. Verses 4-6 show God choosing and speaking that God himself establishes the king in Zion, the chosen place by God. Verses 1-6 were perhaps read by the congregation or by prophetic leaders. In Verses 7-9 the king speaks that he is God's son and that God grants him dominion over the nations. These verses are presumably the verses that the king would have pronounced himself at the ceremony. Verses 10-12 is a conclusion warning the nations against scorning or rejecting the king; these verses were perhaps supposed to be pronounced by a priestly or by the congregation (Craige).

IV. Analysis of Verses 6-9

Verse 6: "Yet I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill"

The establishment of the king was claimed to be a divine appointment in the divinely chosen city of Jerusalem. This, of course, is connected with Davidic ideology & Zion theology. The royal Davidic ideology included a double election of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of Yahweh and the promise to David of a dynasty in perpetuity (2 Sam 7:1–17; Ps 89:1–37). Thus, Jerusalem is YHWH's holy and chosen city and the David's sons are to sit upon the throne (2 Sam 7; Psa 132). 

Davidic Ideology & Zion theology holds that David is YHWH's chosen king and Jerusalem is YHWH's chosen city. Therefore, Jerusalem will be protected by God!

This idea starts with Yahweh’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, promising eternal rule to his descendants, which was expanded by the citizens of Jerusalem, and some of its priests and prophets, to include guarantees concerning the city of Jerusalem, as well as the Temple (Ps 132:11–18; Isa 31:4–5; 37:33–35).

YHWH has chosen it as the seat of his royal palace, temple, place where he finds rest (Ps 78:68-69; 132:13; cf. 1 Kgs 8:44, 48:11:13, 32; 14:21; 2 Kgs 21:7; 23:27; Zech 1:17; 2:16; 3:2.)

David is YHWH’s sub-regent, a manifestation of YHWH’s rule (Ps 110), even over the powers of chaos (Ps 89:26).

Peace is a major Zion theme; this is no surprise since Jerusalem is lexically related (Ps 122:6-8). But it goes deeper: God protects his temple city. Its status is a visible symbol of futility of wars against it.

With David’s accession, Solomon’s construction of the temple, Zion tradition became an essential component of religious tradition. Zion became a symbol of Israel’s national honor for the people. Zion was where the king dwelt, who was YHWH’s viceroy, effortlessly subduing rebellious vassals, just as his divine suzerain and adoptive father subdues the kingdoms that assault his sacred mountain Ps 2; 110).

Verse: 7: "I will declare the decree of YHWH, he has said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you'."

V. 7a: What “the decree (ḥōq) of Yahweh” refers to is a matter of debate.  Does it refer simply to God’s words above or also to a certain ‘constitution’ (ʕedût) as described in 2 Kgs 11:12. This passage describes Joash's coronation during which Jehoiada the priest put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony (ʕedut). Perhaps the ʕedut may be likened to the ḥōq in Psalm 2 “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I  have begotten you, ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage…”. Perhaps Psalms 2 is an allusion to the document containing YHWH’s promise to the king embodied in Davidic covenant.

V. 7b: Verse 7b is the crux of psalm and the coronation ceremony.  The relationship between the deity and the king is figured as that between a father and son: “You are my son, and today I have begotten you.”  

This half verse clearly echoes the  institution of the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7.11-16 in which Nathan proclaims that God will be a father to David’s seed and he a son to God: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (v.14a).  There the father-son relationship is a guarantee that God’s favor will not turn away from the Davidic line, as it did from Saul (v.15).  It is to be an everlasting kingdom.  (see also Ps 89.27; Isa 9.6).  

This is an adoption formula on the day of coronation. The word "today" signifies that these words were announced at the coronation day. The Judean king declares that he is a son of YHWH. It affirms a special relationship between Yahweh and the king which sets the king apart.  It does not (necessarily) proclaim his divinity (cf. Ps 45.7).  This is why the prophets never attack royal claims to divinity.  The claim was never made.

The king was probably thought to be god’s son in ANE cultures.  But perhaps not everywhere. It is true that the Egyptian Pharaoh was believed to have been the offspring of Re and worshipped as the incarnation of Horus, Osiris, and Seth. However, Frankfort (1948) has been the most influential in challenging similar interpretations of Mesopotamian material. The Hittite king it is argued was not deified until after his death. One of the epithets of Keret at Ugarit was the “offspring of El.” But Gray (1969; 1979), and others, deny any notion of the divine nature of the Ugaritic king, the emphasis rather being upon his sacral status (ABD “King and Kinship”). At least in Egypt, the Pharaoh was considered divine and in the ANE, the king was definitely viewed as established by a god. 

However, the Hebrew terminology has clearly undergone transformation, since king is no longer literally a god, but God’s son by adoption; in Ps 2:7 it is clear (e.g., ‘today I have begotten…’) that the king is adopted as a son by God only at coronation, not by nature. The adoption language paralleled in Hammurabi’s Code ‘you are my son’. Also seen in Ps 89:26-27 YHWH declares of David “he will cry to me, ‘you are my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation’ I will make him firstborn, the highest of kings of the earth.”

Within Israelite religion, the affirmation of a father-son relationship between God and king find its counterbalance in the fact that Israel as a people is God’s firstborn son (Ex 4.22-23).  Again, sonship expresses the specialness of the relationship and not necessarily the divinity of the ‘son.’

Verse 8-9: (8) "Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession. (9) You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel."

V. 8: This verse tells us more about the Israelite conception of God than of the king.  The ideal of Israel’s sovereignty over the nations and the ends of the earth was not really fulfilled.  But God’s offer of such a kingdom indicates that God was imagined, at this point, as God over all nations or at least the supreme God among gods of the nations (cf. Deut 32.8-9+Q).

V. 9: The extravagance of this verse can only be interpreted as the hyperbole of ideal ritual language.  The object of wrath are the rebellious nations, introduced at the beginning (vv. 1-3) and addressed directly at the end (vv. 10-12).  The verse, again, affirms the power of God in whose stead the king rules.  As is made clear in vv. 10-12, it is those who take refuge in him (Yahweh) who are blessed.

The privilege to rule over the nations are to be asked of YHWH and He grants those privileges to the Judean king. Just as YHWH rules from heaven over all the earth (Psa 2:4), likewise, the Judean king shall rule over his enemies and over other nations; at least, this is the ideal pronouncement at the coronation, which is also depicted in Psalm 72:8. Although world domination is merely an ideal in Judah, it was a reality in other empires within the ANE; and it was ascribed to ANE kings.

In Babylonia and Assyria, the ruler was called, "king of the world," "king of the four parts of the world," and "king of all the world." Hammurabi received lordship over all humanity after the introduction of his law code. 

Additionally: 2.9 – MEoOrV;t : The Greek (ποιμάινω) and Syriac (Aør) reflect רעה “to shepherd” instead of MT’s רעע “to  break.”  The image of the (iron) staff seems to suggest a pastoral scene.  But “breaking” also makes sense, given that the staff is an iron staff.  Furthermore, reading it otherwise would do violence to the parallelism with נפץ “to shatter.”  It is better to keep the MT since it makes good sense.

V. Psalm 2 Connected with YHWH's Enthronement?

YHWH's Enthronement in the Fall Festival

Gunkel identified a set of “royal psalms” with Mesopotamian and Egyptian analogues celebrating:

(a) the anniversary of the founding of the Davidic dynasty and the establishment of the sanctuary on Mt Zion (Ps 132)

(b) coronation of king (Pss 2, 101, 110)

(c ) anniversary of coronation or other important royal event (Pss 21, 72)

(d) royal wedding (Ps 45)

(e) public act of worship before king leads troops into battle (Pss 20, 144)

(f) public act of thanksgiving for victory in battle (Ps 43)  

Norwegian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel (1884-1966) proposed that many psalms – over forty – should be understood as having been employed in a ritual enthronement of Yahweh as king during the fall festival (Tabernacles).  Mowinckel suggested that in the annual Enthronement Festival of YHWH’s enthronement over Zion the Davidic monarch played a prominant role. Note that Enthronement Psalms are NOT the same as Coronation Psalms. The former deal with YHWH's enthronement, while the latter deal with the Judean king's coronation.

Beginning from Pss 47; 93; 95-100, Mowinckel argued that many psalms suggest that Yahweh was annually enthroned as king in Jerus in a great religious drama.  For him, the basic elements were:

1.) sacred procession around temple w/ark-throne of Yah; 

2.) dramatization of triumph of Yahweh over the mythological and historical enemies of creation and Israel, presented as a repetition and renewal of the original, primeval creation and as judgment over the nations of the earth; 

3.) the procalmaation and celebration of Yahweh’s assumption and reign as king over creation, the world, and Israel.

Generally scholars, including Gunkel, have assumed that these psalms either proclaimed the eternal kingship of Yahweh or should be understood as psalms influenced by  prophetic preaching (esp 2nd Isa) and were thus eschatological hymns.  

But Mowinckel argued that these psalms did not reflect any historical events nor were they composed in anticipation of the coming kgdm of God; instead they referred to the actual realization of YHWH’s kingship adramatized and actualized in the celebrations of the autumn festival.  He proposed that the opening words of some enthronement hymns (93.1; 97.1) should be translated “Yahweh has become king” not “Yah reigns.”  For Mowinckel, Yah reassumed kingship and was reenthroned as king in the Jerus ritual drama.

Mowinckel was influenced by  several factors, including: 1) anthropological studies of primitive societies (by Scandinavians Pedersen and Gronbech), and believed that in the cult, acts (ritual) and words (myth and poetry) belong together; the words complement and interpret the acts.  M. was one of the first Protestants to break with the anticultic, antipriestly, antisacramental attitude begun in the Reformation; 2) research on importance of religious festivals and the nature of cultic activities in comparative aNE societies.

Moreover, Mowinckel suggested that the Israelite king is enthroned annually on the occasion of the New Year’s/Harvest festival and that this act brings promise of shalom to the nation itself. (xxvii; Mowinckel). He argued that the king was the incarnation of deity; so festival had mythological element to it; celebrated King’s reign over cosmos.

Other Opinions on YHWH's Enthronement

Not all accept M’s view that the New Year’s festival of royal enthronement is the primary one in ancient Israel for the setting of the psalms.

Hayes, 303, A. R. Johnson differed from Mowincel in his reconstruction of the major fall festival and the employment of the psalms in the ritual in the following ways: assigned a greater role to the annual ritual humiliation and exaltation of the Davidic king; fewer psalms were assoc. with the enthronement of Yah ritual; 3. Johnson argued that the orientation of the festival was toward the realization of a completely new era and therefore possessed an eschat perspective while M. placed the emphasis on the festival’s orientation to the coming year and the revival and revitalization of the social unit.

Still another alternative is H.-J. Kraus, who proposed the idea of a royal Zion festival focusing upon the establishment of the Yah cult in Jerus and the founding of the Davidic dynasty.  K. opposes mythological or naturalistic interpretations of worship in the Jerus temple and stresses instead the historical traditions of the placement of the ark in Jerus, the role of the temple as the house of Yah, choice of Zion as God’s dwelling, establishment of the house of David as chosen/elect dynasty.  Events of 2 Sam 6-7 were commemorated in the annual Zion festival. Following G., Kraus argues that the psalms which speak of the kingship and enthronement of Yah are eschatological in perspective and dependent upon the prophetic preaching of Deutero-Isaiah.

YHWH's Enthronement and the Judean King

The expectation that the king’s ideal attributes correspond to the central elements of Yahweh’s kingship reflects the importance of religious legitimation in the establishment and maintenance of royal power in early agrarian states. The royal psalms (Psalms 2; 45; 72; 101; 110), which were identified by Gunkel, provide the clearest evidence for the main themes of Israelite, or rather Davidic royal ideology. Once again Mowinckel extended this group of psalms (Psalms 28; 44; 60; 61; 63; 64; 66; 68; 80; 83; 118; and 1 Sam 2:1–10) and argued that they had their setting at the great autumnal festival. Eaton (1976) and Mettinger (1976) have recently reassessed this material and argued for the inclusion of a wider range of material, including 2 Sam 23:1–7, as evidence for the royal ideal. The greatest problems of interpretation stem from disagreements over how to understand the nature of the language applied to the king: whether it is to be taken literally or to be understood as court hyperbole. The history of this debate also covers attempts to reconstruct the use of this material at the autumn or other festivals.

Considerations of the king’s precise role in cultic rites have again formed part of the extensive yet inconclusive debate on the reconstruction of the great autumnal festival as a celebration of Yahweh’s kingship. Johnson (1967) and Eaton (1976) are recent representatives of the view that the king took part in a great sacral drama of humiliation and then glorification as part of the annual renewal of kingship. Their views represent a more moderate position than the earlier advocates of the myth and ritual school who saw this drama as being linked to the king’s divine nature. Considerable doubt surrounds attempts to reconstruct the autumn festival and its central features (Mettinger 1976: 3–4, 308). However, it is generally recognized that most of the royal psalms and associated material, as hymns from the royal sanctuary, provide crucial evidence for the complex of beliefs associated with the king in Israel.