|Psalm 2, the New Testament, and Christian Hermeneutics|
|Written by Timothy Edwards|
|Monday, 15 November 2010 09:22|
Psalm 2:4-6 provides God's response to the futile rebellion of the nations against His rule exercised from Zion through His anointed King. In v.6 God declares that the anointed king against whom they are rebelling was installed by God himself:
I have installed My King on Zion My holy hill1
In English the meaning of the verse appears clear, yet the exact meaning of the verb נסכתי (translated here as "I have installed") has generated much discussion over the centuries. So, Midrash Tehillim, a rabbinic text based on the book of Psalms explores several possible different interpretations:
I have set my king. I anointed him, as it says: And I didn’t anoint (Daniel 10:3), Another interpretation, I made him firm (lit. cast), as it says: molten calf (Exodus 32:4), another interpretation, I raised him up (exalted/made great), as it says: eight princes of men (Micah 5:4), and it is written: there the princes of the North (Ezekiel 32:30), where shall I raise him up? On Zion my holy hill2
Anoint, raise up, cast/make firm are all options set forth for the meaning of the Hebrew phrase ואני נסכתי מלכי ("I have installed my King").
Scripture has only one meaning: the meaning which it had in the mind of the prophet or evangelist who first uttered or wrote to the hearers or readers who first received it.
The Psalmist knew what he meant when he wrote נסכתי and it is that meaning, that historical moment which we seek to retrieve.3 That is the task of the modern-day interpreter of the sacred text. Such a task, however, would seem somewhat limited and anemic in the eyes of early Jewish and Christian exegetes. How did the New Testament read Psalm 2?
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”4
The significance of this event in the life and ministry of Jesus is clear, particularly when we read him standing in the Synagogue after his return from the temptation in the wilderness, and reading from Is.61 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. . .’ Jesus clearly understood his recent baptism as his anointing.5
And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.'
Paul here sees the resurrection of Jesus as fulfilment of God’s promise to the fathers. It is the ultimate fulfilment of all the hopes laid out in the promises of the God to the patriarchs. This is what Ps.2:7 refers to according to Paul. In other words for Paul, God said, ‘you are my son, today I have begotten you’ to Jesus at his resurrection.6
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior (κρειττων) to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say,
"You are my Son,
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honour for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
"You are my Son,
Here the author to the Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ ascension – the one who for a little while became lower than the angels, suffered and died and has now become superior to the angels, receiving a more excellent name and becoming the exalted high priest seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. This exaltation is underlined by the words said to him by the father – ‘You are my son today I have begotten you.’ Ps.2:7 therefore was said to Jesus, according to the author to the Hebrews, at his ascension.
Pilate sneeringly asks, ‘You are the king of the Jews?’ Jesus’ derisive rejoinder ‘You say so’ That is – you Pilate by your actions and words are declaring me Royal. ‘Here the mockery that has transformed kingship into a joke encounters a sharper mockery that unmasks it, so that the derision of kingship is itself derided and true royalty emerges through negation of a negation. For many early Christians this reversal of a reversal, which turned penal mockery on its head, was probably the inner meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion’ (p.87).10
What does the Roman centurion say on seeing all these events? Mark 15:39: "Truly this man was the Son of God." Portraying Jesus' crucifixion as His coronation combined with a declaration of sonship clearly echoes Psalm 2. As with the other examples above Jesus' coronation at His crucifixion can be derived from the ambiguity of the Hebrew נסכתי - which can be translated 'I poured out (as a libation).' God's pouring out of His Son turned out to be His Son's coronation - there is no Kingship without sacrifice.
1. ואני נסכתי מלכי על־ציון הר־קדשי
|Last Updated on Saturday, 20 November 2010 17:44|