The Christ of Psalms 1–2

(Part 1)

Arguably the most important psalms in the Psalter are Pss 1–2. Together they, as a dual-introduction,[1] function much like a preamble to the entire Psalter.[2] They provide its theological message and purpose. And although there are many genres and historical circumstances found throughout the Psalter, the foundational themes of Pss 1–2 can be traced through every psalm in this divine hymnal.

The Main Message of Psalms 1–2

And if Pss 1–2 function like a preamble to the Psalter, then what’s its overall message? What’s the main point of this introduction? The careful reader might notice the “therefore” in 2:10 and conclude that honoring the Son and the LORD by rejecting the wicked way and pursuing the righteous way is the main point. If one landed there, I would not dispute. Pss 1–2—and thus the entire Psalter—beckon mankind to follow the way of the righteous (1:6) and forsake the way of the wicked (1:1, 6; 2:12), for if one does this, he is like a flourishing tree (1:3) who safely hides in the refuge of the LORD and his Son (2:12).

But there is more to this psalm than meets the eye. Though strictly from a literary perspective, this makes sense as the main point of the text, from a theological perspective—which is grounded in purposeful word parallels that bind the two psalms together—one comes to a separate main point: The Christ reigns over all things as the LORD's King. I think this is the primary message of these two psalms and thus the entire Psalter.

The Main Characters of Psalms 1–2

When we read Pss 1–2 together, we quickly see carefully composed word parallels, and I believe these parallels are the key to understanding the theological message of these psalms. The purpose of this 2-part article will be to lay out these parallels, which will then provide the proper groundwork for Part 2, in which we will see the LORD's Christ in his reigning glory. I see 2:6 as the crux of Pss 1–2, and after we identify three main characters in these two psalms, next week in part 2 we will have shed proper light on 2:6 and what that shedding of light means for our understanding of these psalms. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll identify these three characters.

First, when we read Ps 2:1–3, we can see that the “nations/kings/rulers” are “the wicked” in Ps 1. Three parallels show us this: (1) Just as there is a singular “man” and plural “wicked” in Ps 1, so there is a singular “LORD” and “Anointed” pitted against a plural “nations/kings/rulers”; (2) Whereas the “blessed” man “meditates” on Yahweh’s torah (1:2), the nations “meditate” against the LORD and his Anointed (2:1);[3] and (3) The wicked who “perish” in 1:6 are the nations and rulers that might “perish” if they heed not the Son’s warning in 2:12.

Second, the “man” of Ps 1 is the Anointed of Ps 2:2. Two word parallels show us this: (1) In Ps 1:1 the wicked sit and scoff, but in Ps 2 it is the Lord (lowercase o-r-d) “who sits in the heavens” and laughs and derides the nations, whom we’ve just defined as “the wicked” of Ps 1 above;[4] and (2) The man who prospers in all he does in Ps 1 is placed parallel with the unquestionably triumphant reign of the King in Ps 2, as Jean-Marie Auwers, writes, “‘[T]he Anointed of YHWH to whom is promised the victory over his enemies is placed parallel with the just one who is successful in all his endeavors.’”[5]

Third, after we’ve identified from Ps 2 the “wicked” and the “man,” the last character we have to identify is “the Lord” (lowercase o-r-d) of 2:4. We established above that “the Lord” in 2:4 is “he who sits in the heavens.” But is this figure “the LORD” or “his Anointed” in 2:2? After all, they are the only two possible antecedents to “the Lord” In 2:4.

We know that the Lord (lowercase o-r-d) in Ps 2:4 is the Anointed—and not the LORD—in Ps 2:2 for three reasons: (1) The Lord in Ps 110:1—who also sits in heaven— is distinguished from the LORD (i.e., Yahweh). This corroborates with the Lord “who sits in the heavens” in 2:4;[6] (2) The most immediate antecedent to “Lord” is “his Anointed” in 2:2; (3) In 2:5, “the Lord” speaks in his wrath. Later in 2:12 we see it is the Son’s wrath that is kindled against the very nations and kings to whom the Lord speaks to in 2:5. And the LORD’s “Son” is “his Anointed.” Thus, this wrath in 2:5 is the Anointed's wrath.

Conclusion to Part 1

As Christians whose Scriptures contain the New Testament (NT) following the Old Testament (OT) , we must read all OT Scripture as Christian Scripture. That is, the NT often interprets and clarifies OT Scripture. And it is no shame to read it as such. In fact, we must read it as such.[7]

Thus, from the NT alone (e.g., Acts 2:30–31; 13:33; Heb 1:3–5) we can accurately say that Psalm 2 speaks of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection when he sat down at the Father’s right hand after he died on the cross (Heb 1:3–5). But what I want to show you in part 2, having established the primary characters here in part 1, is that we can come to this same conclusion from the text of Pss 1–2 itself. And when we come to this conclusion, what I hope to show you is that the words of Psalm 2 (and possibly Psalm 1) are the very words of Jesus Christ himself.

[1] Interestingly, in Acts 13:33, one fifth century New Testament MS (Codex D), reads “in the first Psalm.” Were these two psalms at one point one Psalm? Possibly. Personally, I’m sympathetic to this understanding—especially given the purposeful connections between the two.

[2] Michael Wilcock, The Message of the Psalms: 1–72 The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 19; “The fact that Psalms 1–2 are the only truly untitled psalms in Book I argues that they may not, in fact, be acting as introductions to the first book, but rather as introductions to the entire Psalter. Indeed, in the Septuagint (LXX), Psalms 3–150 all have titles; Psalms 1–2 are the only untitled psalms in the entire collection, which supports this point,” David M. Howard Jr., “Divine and Human Kingship,” in Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr., eds., The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013), 200.

[3] The verb “plot” in the ESV is the exact same verb for “meditates” in 1:2. 

[4] “Scoffing,” “laughing,” and “deriding” are all semantically related. See Cole, “Psalms 1–2” in Schumtzer and Howard Jr., The Psalms, 187.

[5] Jean-Marie Auwers, La composition littéraire du Psautire (Paris: Gabalda, 2000), 124 in ibid.

[6] In Hebrew, these are two different words: אדני is “the Lord” and יהוה is “the LORD” (“Yahweh”). 

[7] Psalm 2 is a prime example of this. In Acts 13:33, Peter says that “God promised to the fathers” the gospel and the reality of Jesus’s resurrection. And then he quotes Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” And earlier in Acts, Peter says that David—the main psalmist in the Psalter—was a prophet and “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30–31).