Note: Due to the length of this commentary I have decided to post it in several parts. I mad use of part of the introduction to this Psalm in my own notes on Psalm 2 which you can read here.
Psalm 2 is a sublime vision of the nations in revolt against God and his anointed, with a declaration of the divine purpose to maintain his kings authority, and a warning to the world that it must bow down or perish. The structure of this psalm is extremely regular. It naturally falls into four stanzas of three verses each. In the first, the conduct of the rebellious nations is described. In the second, God replies to them by word an deed. In the third, the Messiah or Anointed One declares the divine decree in relation to himself. In the fourth, the Psalmist exhorts the rulers of the nations to submission, with a threatening of the divine wrath to the disobedient, and a closing benediction on believers. The several sentences are also very regular in form, exhibiting parallelism of great uniformity. Little as this psalm might, at first sight, seem to resemble that coming before it, there is really a very strong affinity between them. Even in form they are related to one another. The number of verses and of stanzas is just double in the second, which moreover begins, as the first ends, with a threat, and ends, as the first begins, with a beatitude. There is also a resemblance in their subject and contents. The contrast indicated in the first is carried out and rendered more distinct in the second. The first is in fact an introduction to the second, and the second to what follows. And as the psalms which follow bear the name of David, there is the strongest reason to believe that these two psalms are his likewise, a conclusion confirmed by the authority of Acts 4:25, as well as by the internal character of the psalm itself. The imagery of the scene presented is evidently borrowed from the warlike and eventful times of David. He cannot, however, be himself the subject of the composition, the terms of which are wholly inappropriate to any king but the Messiah, to whom they are applied by the oldest Jewish writers, and again and again in the New Testament. This is the first of those prophetic psalms, in which the promise made to David, with respect to the Messiah (2 Sam 7:16; 1 Chron 17:11-14), is wrought into the lyrical devotions of the ancient church. The supposition of a double reference to David, or to some one of his successors, and to Christ, is not only needless and gratuitous, but hurtful to the sense by the confusion which it introduces, and forbidden by the utter inappropriateness of some of the expressions used to any lower subject. The style of this psalm, although not less pure and simple, is livelier than that of the first, a difference arising partly from the nature of the subject, but still more from the dramatic structure of the composition.
Verse 1: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?
This psalm opens, like the first, with an exclamation, here expressive of astonishment and indignation at the wickedness and folly of the scene presented to the psalmist’s view. Why do the nations make a noise, tumult, or rage? The Hebrew verb is not expressive of an internal feeling, but of the outward agitation which denotes it. There may be an allusion to the rolling and roaring of the sea, often used as an emblem of popular commotion, both in the Scriptures and the classics. The past tense of this verb (why have they raged?) refers to the commotion as already begun, while the future tense in the next clause expresses its continuance. And the peoples, not people in the collective sense of persons, but in the proper plural sense of nations, races, will imagine (devise), i.e. are imagining and will continue to imagine, vanity,a vain thing, something hopeless and impossible. The interrogation in this verse implies that no rational solution of the strange sight could be given, for reasons assigned in the remainder of the psalm. This implied charge of irrationality is equally well founded in all cases where the same kind of opposition exists, though secretly and on the smallest scale.
Verse 2: The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ (Anointed One)?
The confused scene presented in the first verse now becomes more distinct by a nearer view of the contending parties. Why will the kings of the earth se themselves, or take their stand, and rulers consult together, literally sit together, but with special reference to taking counsel, as in Psalm 31:14, Against God and against his Anointed, or Messiah, which is only a modified form of the Hebrew word here used, as Christ is a like modification of the corresponding term in Greek. External unction or anointing is a sign in the Old Testament, of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially of those conferred on prophets, priests, and kings, as ministers of the theocracy, and representatives of Christ himself. To kings particularly, as the highest and most comprehensive order, and peculiar types of Christ in his supremacy as Head of the Church, the sacred history applies the title of the Lord’s Anointed. The right of unction is explicitly recorded in the case of Saul, David, and Solomon, and was probably repeated at the coronation of their successors. From the verse before us, and from Daniel 9:26, the name Messiah had, before the advent, come into use among the Jews as a common designation of the great deliverer and King whom they expected. (Compare John 1:41 with 1:49; and see also Mark 15:32). The intimate relation of the Anointed One to God himself is indicated even here by making them the common object of attack, or rather of revolt. In Acts 4: 25-27, this description is applied to the combination of Herod and Pilate, Jews and Gentiles, against Jesus Christ, not as the sole event predicted, but as that in which the gradual fulfillment reached its culmination. From the quotation, and indeed from the terms of the prophecy itself, we learn that nations here does not mean gentiles or heathen as opposed to Jews, but whole communities or masses of mankind, as distinguished from mere personal or insulated cases of resistance and rebellion.
Verse 3: Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us.
Having described the conduct of the disaffected nations and their chiefs, he now introduces them as speaking. In the preceding verse, they were seen, as it were, at a distance, taking counsel. Here they are brought so near to us, or we to them, that we can overhear their planning. Let us break their bonds, i.e. the bonds of the Lord and his Anointed, that is the restraints imposed by their authority. The form of the Hebrew verb may be expressive of either a proposition or of a fixed determination. We will break their bonds, we are resolved to do it. This is in fact involved in the other version, where let us break must not be understood as a faint or dubious suggestion, but as a summons to the execution of a formed and settled purpose. The same idea is expressed, with a slight modification, in the other clause. And we will cast, or let us cast away their yoke, twisted ropes, a stronger term than bonds. The verse, too, while it really implies the act of breaking, suggests the additional idea of contemptuous facility, as if they had said, let us fling away from us with scorn these feeble bonds by which we have been hitherto confined. The application of this passage to the revolt of the Ammonites and and other conquered nations against David, or to any singular rebellion against any of the latter Jewish kings, as the principal subject of this grand description, makes it quite ridiculous if not profane, and cannot therefore be consistent with the principles of sound interpretation. The utmost that can be conceded is that David borrowed the scenery of this dramatic exhibition from the wars and insurrections of his own eventful reign. The language of the rebels in the verse before us is a genuine expression of the feelings entertained, not only in the hearts of individual sinners, but by the masses of mankind, so far as they have been brought into collision with the sovereignty of God and Christ, not only at the time of his appearance on earth, but in the ages both for and after that event, in which the prophecy, as we have seen, attained its height, but was not finally exhausted or fulfilled, since the same rash and hopeless opposition to the Lord and his Anointed still continues, and is likely to continue until the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev 11:15), an expression borrowed from this very passage.