This Psalm is the development in poetical language and imagery of the thought repeated in so many forms in the Book of Proverbs (e.g. 2:21, 22), that it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. The belief in Jehovah's righteous government of the world was a fundamental principle of Old Testament religion, and it is here asserted without any of those doubts and questionings which disturbed the minds of many Psalmists and Prophets, especially in the later stages of Old Testament revelation.
The Psalm forms an appropriate prologue to the Psalter, which records the manifold experiences of the godly. For it affirms the truth to which they clung, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, in spite of the sufferings of the righteous and the triumphs of the wicked, that the only sure and lasting happiness for man is to be found in fellowship with God.
The Psalm expresses a general truth, and does not appear to refer to any particular person or occasion. Hence date and authorship must remain uncertain. Some (without good reason) have assigned it to David, during his persecution by Saul, or during Absalom's rebellion: Dean (now Bp.) Perowne conjectures that it may have been written by Solomon as an introduction to a collection of David's poems: Prof. Cheyne thinks that it was a product of the fresh enthusiasm for the study of the Law in the time of Ezra.
Two considerations however limit the period to which it may be assigned.
(1) It is earlier than Jeremiah, who paraphrases and expands part of it in ch. 17:5-8 with reference to Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin.
(2) The most striking parallels in thought and language are to be found in the middle section of the Book of Proverbs (Prov. 10-24), which dates from a comparatively early period in the history of Judah, if not from the reign of Solomon himself. The 'scorner' is a character hardly mentioned outside of the Book of Proverbs: the contrast of the righteous and the wicked, and the belief that prosperity is the reward of piety, and adversity of ungodlinesses, are especially conspicuous in the middle section of that book: and further striking coincidences in detail of thought and language will easily be found.
The absence of a title distinguishes it from the mass of Psalms in Book I., and points to its having been derived from a different source. It may have been composed or selected as a preface to the original 'Davidic' collection (Introd. p. lviii), or, though this is less probable, placed here by the final editor of the Psalter.
The Psalm consists of two equal divisions:
i. The enduring prosperity of the righteous (vv. 1-3), ii. contrasted with the speedy ruin of the wicked (vv. 4-6).
Observe the affinity of this Psalm to Ps. 26; and still more to Ps. 112, which celebrates the blessedness of the righteous, and begins and ends with the same words (Blessed... perish): and contrast with its simple confidence the questionings of Pss. 37 and 73, in which the problem of the prosperity of the wicked is treated as a trial of faith.
1 Blessed is the man
That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
1-3. The happiness of the righteous.
1. More exactly:
Happy the man who hath not walked in the counsel of wicked men,
Nor stood in the way of sinners,
Nor sat in the session of scorners.
Blessed] Or, happy: LXX μακάριος. Cp. Matt. 5:3 ff. The righteous man is first described negatively and retrospectively. All his life he has observed the precept, 'depart from evil' (34:14).
the ungodly] Rather, wicked men: and so in vv. 4, 5, 6. It is the most general term in the O. T. for the ungodly in contrast to the righteous. If the primary notion of the Hebrew word rāshā is unrest (cp. Job 3:17; Isa. 57:20, 21), the word well expresses the disharmony which sin has brought into human nature, affecting man's relation to God, to man, to self.
sinners] Those who miss the mark, or go astray from the path of right. The intensive form of the word shews that habitual offenders are meant. Cp. Prov. 1:10 ff.
the scornful] Better, as the word is rendered in Proverbs, scorners: those who make what is good and holy the object of their ridicule. With the exception of the present passage and Isa. 29:20 (cp. however Isa. 28:14, 22, R.V.; Hos. 7:5) the term is peculiar to the Book of Proverbs. There 'the scorners' appear as a class of defiant and cynical freethinkers, in contrast and antagonism to 'the wise.' The root-principle of their character is a spirit of proud self-sufficiency, a contemptuous disregard for God and man (Prov. 21:24). It is impossible to reform them, for they hate reproof, and will not seek instruction (13:1 15:12). If they seek for wisdom they will not find it (14:6). It is folly to argue with them (9:7, 8). They are generally detested (24:9), and in the interests of peace must be banished from society (22:10). Divine judgements are in store for them, and their fate is a warning to the simple (3:34; 19:25, 29; 21:11).
The three clauses of the verse with their threefold parallelism (walk, stand, sit: counsel, way, session: wicked, sinners, scorners) emphasise the godly man's entire avoidance of association with evil and evildoers in every form and degree. They denote successive steps in a career of evil, and form a climax:—(1) adoption of the principles of the wicked as a rule of life: (2) persistence in the practices of notorious offenders: (3) deliberate association with those who openly mock at religion. With the first clause and for the phrase counsel of the wicked cp. Mic. 6:16; Jer. 7:24; Job 10:3; 21:16; 22:18: for stood &c., cp. Ps. 36:4. For both clauses cp. the concrete example in 2 Chron. 22:3-5. With the third clause cp. Ps. 26:4, 5.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; 2
And in his law doth he meditate day and night.
2. The positive principle and source of the righteous man's life. The law of the Lord is his rule of conduct. It is no irksome restriction of his liberty but the object of his love and constant study (Deut. 6:6-9). True happiness is to be found not in ways of man's own devising, but in the revealed will of God. "The purpose of the Law was to make men happy." Kay. Cp. Deut. 33:29.
his delight] The religion of Israel was not an external formalism, but an obedience of the heart. Cp. 37:31; 40:8; 112:1; 119:35, 97.
the law of the Lord] The Hebrew word tôrāh has a much wider range of meaning than law, by which it is always rendered in the A.V. It denotes (1) teaching, instruction, whether human (Prov. 1:8), or divine; (2) a precept or law; (3) a body of laws, and in particular the Mosaic law, and so finally the Pentateuch. The parallel to the second clause of the verse in Josh. 1:8 suggests a particular reference to Deuteronomy; but the meaning here must not be limited to the Pentateuch or any part of it. Rather as in passages where it is parallel to and synonymous with the word of the Lord (Isa. 1:10; 2:3) it should be taken to include all Divine revelation as the guide of life.
meditate] The Psalmists meditate on God Himself (63:6); on His works in nature and in history (77:12; 143:5).
3. The consequent prosperity of the godly man is emblematically described. As a tree is nourished by constant supplies of water, without which under the burning Eastern sun it would wither and die, so the life of the godly man is maintained by the supplies of grace drawn from constant communion with God through His revelation. Cp. 52:8; 92:12; 128:3; Num. 24:6. If a special tree is meant, it is probably not the oleander (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 146), which bears no fruit; nor the vine (Ezek. 19:10); nor the pomegranate; but the palm. Its love of water, its stately growth, its evergreen foliage, its valuable fruit, combine to suggest that it is here referred to. Cp. Ecclus. 24:14; and see Thomson's Land and the Book, p. 48 f.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
His leaf also shall not wither;
And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so:
But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
the rivers of water] Better, streams of water: either natural watercourses (Isa. 44:4): or more probably artificial channels for irrigating the land. Cp. Prov. 21:1; Eccl. 2:5, 6.
and whatsoever &c.] Or, as R.V. marg., in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper. The figure of the tree is dropped, and the words refer directly to the godly man. The literal meaning of the word rendered prosper is to carry through to a successful result. Cp. Josh. 1:8; and for illustration, Gen. 39:3, 23.
4-6. The character and destiny of the wicked.
4. In sharp contrast to the firmly-rooted, flourishing, fruitful tree is the chaff on the threshing-floor, worthless in itself, and liable to be swept away by every passing breeze.
The scattering of chaff by the wind is a common figure in the O.T. for the sudden destruction of the wicked. Cp. 35:5; Job 21:18; Isa. 29:5; Hos. 13:3. Here it describes their character as well as their fate. It would be vividly suggestive to those who were familiar with the sight of the threshing-floors, usually placed on high ground to take advantage of every breeze, on which the corn was threshed out and winnowed by throwing it up against the wind with shovels, the grain falling on the floor to be carefully gathered up, the chaff left to be carried away by the wind and vanish.
The P.B.V. following the LXX and Vulg. adds from the face of the earth. Cp. Am. 9:8; Zeph. 1:2, 3.
5. Therefore] The real character of the wicked will be manifested in the judgement. Since they are thus worthless and unstable, destitute of root and fruit, the wicked will not hold their ground in the judgement, in which Jehovah separates the chaff from the wheat (Matt. 3:12).
stand] So Lat. causa stare, and the opposite causa cadere. Cp. 5:5; 130:3; Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2; Wisd. 5:1.
in the judgment] Not, before a human tribunal: nor merely in the last judgement, (as the Targum and many interpreters understand it): but in every act of judgement by which Jehovah separates between the righteous and the wicked, and vindicates His righteous government of the world. Cp. as an illustration Num. xvi. Each such 'day of the Lord' is a type and pledge of the great day of judgement. Cp. Isa. 1:24 ff., 2:12 ff.; Mal. 3:5; Eccl. 12:14.
in the congregation of the righteous] The 'congregation of Israel,' which is the 'congregation of Jehovah,' is in its true idea and ultimate
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: 6
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
destination, the 'congregation of the righteous' (111:1). It is the aim of each successive judgement to purify it, until at last the complete and final separation shall be effected (Matt. 13:41-43).
6. The teaching of the Psalm is grounded on the doctrine of divine Providence. Each clause of the verse implies the supplement of its antithesis to the other clause. 'The Lord knows the way of the righteous,' and under His care it is a 'way of life' (16:11; Prov. 12:28); 'a way of peace' (Isa. 59:8); 'a way eternal' (139:24). Equally He knows the way of the wicked, and by the unalterable laws of His government it can lead, only to destruction; it is a way of death (Prov. 14:12).
knoweth] Divine knowledge cannot be abstract or ineffectual. It involves approval, care, guidance; or abandonment, judgement. The righteous man's course of life leads to God Himself; and He takes care that it does not fail of its end (Nah. 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:19).
The circumstances which called forth this Psalm stand out clearly. A king of Israel, recently placed upon the throne, and consecrated by the solemn rite of anointing to be Jehovah's representative in the government of His people, is menaced by a confederacy of subject nations, threatening to revolt and cast off their allegiance. The moment is critical: but his cause is Jehovah's; their endeavour is. futile. He asserts his high claims; and the nations are exhorted to yield a willing submission, and avoid the destruction which awaits rebels against the authority of Jehovah.
Who then was the king? and what was the occasion referred to? The king's consciousness of his high calling, and the confidence with which he appeals to the divine promise, point to a time when that promise was still recent, and the lofty ideal of the theocratic kingdom had not been blurred and defaced by failure and defeat. For such a time we must go back to the reigns of David and Solomon.
(1) The language of Acts 4:25 does not decide the question, for 'David' in the N.T. may mean no more than 'the Psalter' (Heb. 4:7) or 'a Psalmist.' The older commentators however attribute the Psalm to David, and suppose the occasion to have been the attack of the Philistines shortly after he was anointed king over all Israel (2 Sam. 5:17 ff.), or of the confederacy of Ammonites and Syrians described in 2 Sam. x. But the Psalm speaks plainly (v. 3) of subject nations, while the Philistines certainly were not David's subjects at the time, and it is doubtful if the Syrians were. See note on 1 Sam. 10.
(2) On the other hand there is good reason for supposing that Solomon was the king referred to. He was anointed at Gihon, and solemnly enthroned on Zion (1 Kings 1:45). Zion was already 'Jehovah's holy mountain' in virtue of the presence of the Ark there. So strongly was the theocratic character of the kingdom then realised that he is said to have sat 'on the throne of Jehovah' (1 Chr. 29:23; cp. 28:5). The Psalm is based upon the great promise in 2 Sam. 7:12 ff., which, although not limited to Solomon, would naturally be claimed by him with special confidence. Solomon succeeded to the great kingdom which his father had built up. But he was young. The succession was disputed. What more likely than that some of the subject nations should threaten to revolt upon his accession? Hadad's request (1 Kings 11:21) shews that his enemies thought that their opportunity was come. It is true that we have no account of any such revolt in the Historical Books. But their records are incomplete and fragmentary; and the language of the Psalm implies that the revolt was only threatened, and had not as yet broken out into open war. There was still hope that wiser counsels might prevail (vv. 10 ff.); and if they did, we should hardly expect to find any reference in Kings and Chron. to a mere threat of rebellion. Moreover, though Solomon's reign was on the whole peaceful, there are incidental notices which make it plain that it was not uniformly and universally so. He made great military preparations (1 Kings 4:26; 9:15 ff.; 11:27; 2 Chron. 8:5 ff.), and engaged in wars (2 Chron. 8:3); and Hadad and Rezon succeeded in 'doing him mischief (1 Kings 11:21-25).
(3) The conjectures which refer the Psalm to a later occasion have but little probability. The confederacy of Pekah and Rezin against Ahaz (Isa. 7.); and the invasion of Judah by the Moabites and their allies (2 Chr. 20.) have been suggested: but neither of these was a revolt of subject nations.
The question still remains whether Solomon was himself the writer. The king and the poet appear to be identified in vv. 7 ff.; but in such a highly dramatic Psalm, it is at least possible that the poet might introduce the king as a speaker, as he introduces the nations (v. 3), and Jehovah (v. 6).
The particular historical reference is however of relatively small moment compared with the typical application of the Psalm to the Kingdom of Christ. To understand this, it is necessary to realise the peculiar position of the Israelite king. Israel was Jehovah's son, His firstborn (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 32:6); and Israel's king, as the ruler and representative of the people, was adopted by Jehovah as His son, His firstborn (2 Sam. 7:13 ff.; Ps. 89:26, 27). It was a moral relationship, sharply distinguished from the supposed descent of kings and heroes from Gods in the heathen world in virtue of which they styled themselves Zeus-born, sons of Zeus, and the like. It involved on the one side fatherly love and protection, on the other filial obedience and devotion.
The king moreover was not an absolute monarch in his own right. He was the Anointed of Jehovah, His viceroy and earthly representative. To him therefore was given not only the sovereignty over Israel, but the sovereignty over the nations. Rebellion against him was rebellion against Jehovah.
Thus, as the adopted son of Jehovah and His Anointed King, he was the type of the eternal Son of God, the 'Lord's Christ.' Then, as successive kings of David's line failed to realise their high destiny, men were taught to look for the coming of One who should fulfil the Divine words of promise, giving them a meaning and a reality beyond hope and imagination. See Introd. p. lxxvi ff.
This Psalm then is typical and prophetic of the rebellion of the kingdoms of the world against the kingdom of Christ, and of the final triumph of the kingdom of Christ. To Him all nations are given for an inheritance; if they will not submit He must judge them. This typical meaning does not however exclude (as some commentators think), but rather requires, a historic foundation for the Psalm.
In connexion with this Psalm should be studied 2 Sam. 7.; Ps. 89; and Pss. 21, 45, 72 and 110.
The references to this Psalm in the N.T. should be carefully examined.
(1) In Acts 4:25-28, vv. 1, 2 are applied to the confederate hostility of Jews and Gentiles against Christ.
(2) v. 7 was quoted by St Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:33) as fulfilled in the Resurrection of Christ (cp. Rom. 1:4): and in the Epistle to the Hebrews the words are cited (the Messianic reference of the Psalm being evidently generally admitted) to describe the superiority of the Son to angels (1:5): and as a declaration of the Divine sonship of Christ, in connexion with the proof of the Divine origin of His high-priesthood (5:5).
(3) It contains the titles 'my Son' (Matt. 3:17), and 'the Lord's Christ' (Luke 2:26), which describe the nature and office of the Messiah. Comp. Matt. 16:16: John 20:31.
(4) Its language is repeatedly borrowed in the Revelation, the great epic of the conflict and triumph of Christ's kingdom. He 'rules the nations with a rod of iron' (Rev. 12:5, 19:15); and delegates the same power to His servants (2:26, 27). 'Kings of the earth' occurs no less than nine times in this book (1:5, &c.). 'He that sitteth in the heavens' is the central figure there (4:2 and frequently).
These quotations sufficiently explain the choice of the Psalm as one of the Proper Psalms for Easter Day.
In a few Heb. MSS. the Second Psalm is reckoned as the First, the First being treated as an independent prologue to the whole book; in a few other MSS. the two are united. Origen says that this was the case in one of two copies he had seen (Op. 2:537): and there was an ancient Jewish saying, "The first Psalm begins with blessing (1:1), and ends with blessing" (2:12). Some recensions of the LXX appear to have followed this arrangement, though Origen speaks as if all the Greek copies with which he was acquainted divided the two Psalms. Justin Martyr in his Apology (1:40) cites Pss. 1 and 2 as a continuous prophecy, and in Acts 13:33 D and cognate authorities representing the 'Western' text, read, 'in the first Psalm.'
But though there are points of contact in phraseology (blessed, 1:1, 2:12; meditate, 1:2, 2:1; perish connected with way, 1:6; 2:12); they are clearly distinct in style and character. Ps. 1 is the calm expression of a general truth; Ps. 2 springs out of a special occasion; it is full of movement, and has a correspondingly vigorous rhythm. Probably the absence of a title to Ps. 2 (contrary to the usual practice of Book I) accounts for its having been joined to Ps. 1.
The Psalm is dramatic in form. The scene changes. Different persons are introduced as speakers. Its structure is definite and artistic. It consists of four stanzas, each (except the second) of seven lines.
i. The poet contemplates with astonishment the tumult of the nations, mustering with the vain idea of revolt from their allegiance (vv. 1-3).
ii. But looking from earth to heaven he beholds Jehovah enthroned in majesty. He mocks their puny efforts. He has but to speak, and they are paralysed (vv. 4-6).
iii. The king speaks, and recites the solemn decree by which Jehovah has adopted him for His son, and given him the nations for his inheritance, with authority to subdue all opposition (vv. 7-9).
iv. The poet concludes with an exhortation to the nations to yield willing submission, instead of resisting to their own destruction (vv. 10-12).
1 Why do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
1-3. The muster of the nations and its design.
1. Why], The Psalmist gazes on the great tumult of the nations mustering for war, till the sight forces from him this question of mingled astonishment and indignation. Their insurrection is at once causeless and hopeless.
the heathen] Better, as R.V., the nations. Gōyim, variously rendered in A.V. nations, heathen, Gentiles, denotes the non-Israelite nations as distinguished from and often in antagonism to the people of Jehovah. Sometimes the word has a moral significance and may rightly be rendered heathen.
rage] Rather, as in marg., tumultuously assemble; or, throng together. Cp. the cognate subst. in Ps. 64:2, insurrection, R.V. tumult, marg. throng.
the people] R.V. rightly, peoples. Comp. 44:2, 14.
imagine] Or, meditate: the same word as in 1:2; but in a bad sense, as in 38:12.
2. The kings of the earth] In contrast to 'my king,' v. 6. Cp. the use of the phrase in striking contexts, 76:12; 89:27; 102:15; 138:4; 148:11; Isa. 24:21.
set themselves] The tenses of the original in vv. 1, 2 give a vividness and variety to the picture which can hardly be reproduced in translation. Rage and take counsel are perfects, representing the throng as already gathered, and the chiefs seated in divan together: imagine and set themselves are imperfects (the graphic, pictorial tense of Hebrew poetry), representing their plot in process of development. The rapid
Against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying.
Let us break their bands asunder, 3
And cast away their cords from us.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: 4
The Lord shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, 5
And vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king 6
lively rhythm moreover well suggests the stir and tumult of the gathering host.
against the Lord] They would not deny that in making war upon Israel they were malting war upon Israel's God (2 Kings 18:32 ff.); but they little knew Whom they were defying (2 Kings 19:22 ff.).
3. The words of the kings and rulers exhorting one another to cast off the yoke of subjection. Bands are the fastenings by which the yoke was secured upon the neck (Jer. 27:2; 30:8; Nah. 1:13; &c.): cords are perhaps merely synonymous with bands: but as the language of the previous clause is derived from the figure of an ox yoked for ploughing, cords may naturally be understood to mean the reins by which the animal was guided and kept under control. Cp. Job 39:10; Hos. 11:4.
4-6. The poet-seer draws aside the veil, and bids us look from earth to heaven. There the supreme Ruler of the world sits enthroned in majesty. With sovereign contempt He surveys these petty plottings, and when the moment comes confounds them with a word.
4. He that sitteth in the heavens] Enthroned in majesty (123:1), but withal watching and controlling the course of events upon the earth (11:4; 103:19; 113:4 ff.; Rev. 5:13; 6:16).
shall laugh... shall have them in derision] Or, laugheth... mocketh at them. Cp. 37:13; 59:8; Prov. 1:26. The O.T. uses human language of God without fear of lowering Him to a human level.
the Lord] This is the reading of 1611, restored by Dr Scrivener. Most editions, and R.V., have the Lord, in accordance with the Massoretic Text, which reads Adonai, not JEHOVAH. The variation is perhaps significant. God is spoken of as the sovereign ruler of the world, rather than as the covenant God of Israel.
5. Then] There is a limit to the divine patience. He will not always look on in silence. If they persist in their folly He must speak, and His word (like that of His representative, Isa. 11:4) is power.
vex] Trouble, confound, dismay, with panic terror, paralysing their efforts. Cp. 48:5; 83:15, 17.
in his sore displeasure] Lit. fiery wrath (Ex. 15:7), a word used almost exclusively of divine anger.
6. Yet have I set] R.V., Yet I have set. The first stanza ended with the defiant words of the rebels: the second stanza ends with the answer of Jehovah. The sentence is elliptical, and the pronoun is
Upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree:
The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son;
This day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me,
And I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
emphatic: 'Why this uproar, when it is I Who have set up My king' &c. The meaning of the word rendered set has been much disputed, but it certainly means set up, or appointed, not, as A.V. marg., anointed. Cp. Prov. 8:23.
my king] A king appointed by Me, to rule over My people, as My representative. Cp. 1 Sam. 16:1.
my holy hill of Zion] Zion, the name of the ancient stronghold which became the city of David (2 Sam. 5:7), consecrated by the presence of the Ark until the Temple was built, is the poetical and prophetical name for Jerusalem in its character as the holy city, the earthly dwellingplace of Jehovah, and the seat of the kingdom which He had established. For a discussion of the topographical difficulties connected with the site of Zion see Comm. on 2 Samuel, p. 239.
7-9. Jehovah has acknowledged the king as His own: and now the king takes up Jehovah's declaration, and appeals to the Divine decree of sonship, and the promise of worldwide dominion.
7. the decree] The solemn and authoritative edict, promulgated in the promise made to David and his house through Nathan (2 Sam. 7:12 ff.).
hath said unto me] Better, said unto me (R.V.), or, said of me.
this day] The day when he was anointed king. If Nathan was (as is commonly supposed) Solomon's tutor, he had no doubt trained him to a consciousness of his high calling; and when in concert with Zadok he anointed him (1 Kings 1:34), he would not fail to impress upon him the significance of the rite. Comp. David's charge to him in 1 Chr. 22:6 ff.
have I begotten thee] I is the emphatic word in the clause, contrasting the new sonship by adoption with the existing sonship by natural relation. The recognition of Christ's eternal sonship in the Resurrection corresponds to the recognition of the king's adoptive sonship in the rite of anointing (Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:4).
8. Ask of me] Inheritance is the natural right of sonship. Yet even the son must plead the promise and claim its fulfilment. Dominion over the nations is not expressly mentioned in 2 Sam. 7; but cp. Ps. 89:27.
inheritance... possession] Words frequently applied to the gift of Canaan to Israel (Gen. 17:8; Deut. 4:21, 32:49). Now the world shall be his with equal right. Jehovah is king of the world, and
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; 9
Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: 10
Be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, 11
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, 12
He offers His representative a worldwide dominion. Cp. 72:8; Zech. 9:9, 10.
9. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron] A figure for the severity of the chastisement that awaits rebels. Or perhaps, 'an iron sceptre' (45:6), symbol of a stern and irresistible rule. But the word rendered break them, if read with different vowels, may mean rule (lit shepherd) them, so the LXX (and after it Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15), Syriac, and Jerome. In this case rod will mean a shepherd's staff (Mic. 7:14), and the phrase will be an oxymoron.
a potter's vessel] An emblem of easy, complete, irreparable destruction. The confederacy is shattered into fragments which cannot be reunited. Cp. Jer. 19:11; Isa. 30:14; Prov. 6:15.
10-12. The poet speaks, drawing the lesson from the great truths which have been set forth. There is a better way. Submission may avert destruction. The leaders of the nations are exhorted to be wise in time, and accept the suzerainty of Jehovah instead of resisting until His wrath is kindled.
10. Be wise now therefore] Now therefore should stand first, as in R.V., emphatically introducing the conclusion to be drawn from the statements of the preceding verses.
kings... Judges of the earth] Not the rebel leaders of v. 2 exclusively, though the warning has a special significance for them, but all world-rulers. Judges = rulers generally, administration of justice being one of the most important functions of the king in early times. Cp. 148:11; Prov. 8:16.
11. Serve] The context indicates that political submission to Jehovah in the person of His representative is primarily intended. Cp. 18:43; 72:11. But the wider meaning must not be excluded. Serve and fear are words constantly used with a religious meaning; and political submission to Israel is only the prelude to that spiritual submission of the nations to Jehovah, which is a constant element in the Messianic expectation of the O.T. Cp. 22:27, 28; 67:7; 100:1 ff.; 102:15; &c.
rejoice with trembling] There is no need to alter the reading to tremble (96:9) or to look for this meaning in the word rendered rejoice. Joyfulness tempered with reverent awe befits those who approach One so gracious yet so terrible. Cp. 97:1; 100:2; Hos. 3:5; 11:10, 11; Heb. 12:28. P.B.V. adds unto him with LXX and Vulg.
12. Kiss the Son] According to this rendering the exhortation to serve Jehovah is followed by an exhortation to pay homage to His
And ye perish from the way,
representative. For the kiss of homage cp. 1 Sam. 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:27; Hos. 13:2. But this rendering must certainly be abandoned. (1) Not to mention some minor difficulties, it assumes that the Psalmist has used the Aramaic word bar for son (cp. Bar-jona, Bar-jesus) instead of the usual Hebrew word ben. The only example of its use in the Hebrew of the O.T. (it is of course found in the Aramaic of Ezra and Daniel) is in Prov. 31:2, a passage which contains other marked Aramaisms. No satisfactory reason has been suggested for its introduction here. We should not expect a poet to borrow a foreign word for son either for 'emphasis' or for 'euphony.'
(2) None of the ancient Versions, with the exception of the Syriac, give this sense to the words. They represent two views as to the meaning, (a) The LXX, and of course the Versions dependent on it, render, Lay hold of instruction: and similarly the Targum, Receive instruction, (b) Symmachus and Jerome render, Worship purely; and to the same effect, but with his usual bald literalism, Aquila gives, Kiss choicely.
The Syriac gives the meaning Kiss the son; but its rendering is merely a transcription of the Hebrew words. The reading of the Ambrosian MS., which agrees with the rendering of the LXX, is a correction by a later hand to the reading of the Hexaplar Syriac.
Jerome was acquainted with the translation Worship the son, but rejected it as doubtful. The passage in his treatise against Ruffinus (1:19) deserves quotation. He had been charged with inconsistency for translating Worship purely (adorate pure) in his Psalter, though he had given Worship the son (adorate filium) in his Commentary. After discussing the possible meanings of the words he concludes thus: "Why am I to blame, if I have given different translations of an ambiguous word? and while in my short commentary where there is opportunity for discussion I had said Worship the Son, in the text itself, to avoid all appearance of forced interpretation, and to leave no opening for Jewish cavils, I have said, Worship purely\ or choicely; as Aquila also and Symmachus have translated it.
It is however easier to shew that the rendering Kiss the Son is untenable, than to decide what rendering should be adopted. Bar (beside other senses inapplicable here) may mean choice, or, pure. Hence some commentators have adopted the renderings Worship the chosen one; or, Worship in purity (cp. 18:20, 24; 24:3-5). But the substantial agreement of the LXX and Targum points to the existence of a widely-spread early tradition as to the sense, and on the whole it seems best to follow their general direction and render, Embrace instruction, or perhaps, obedience. No rendering is free from difficulty, and it may be doubted whether the text is sound. But an exaggerated importance has frequently been attached to the words. The uncertainty as to their meaning does not affect the general drift of the Psalm, or its Messianic interpretation.
lest he be angry] The subject of the verb is Jehovah Himself. The verb is applied to God in all the thirteen passages where it occurs.
When his wrath is kindled but a little:
Blessed art all they that put their trust in him.
perish from the way] Rather, as R.V., perish in the way: find that your expedition leads only to ruin. Cp. 1:6. P.B.V. adds right from the LXX (ἐξ ὁδοῦ δικαίας).
when his wrath is kindled but a little] Better, For quickly (or easily) may his anger blaze forth. Kindled fails to give the idea of the Divine wrath blazing up to consume all adversaries. Cp. 83:14 f.; Isa. 30:27.
Blessed are all they that put their trust in him] Rather, Happy are all they that take refuge in him: lit. seek asylum or shelter: cp. Judg. 9:15; Ruth 2:12 (R.V.); Ps. 7:1; 57:1. Here primarily, those are congratulated who place themselves under His protectorate by accepting the suzerainty of His king; but as in the preceding verse, the deeper spiritual sense must not be excluded. Cp. 34:8. Nah. 1:7 combines the thought with that of 1:6 a.