On a literal and historical level, this "Royal Psalm" sings of the earthly power of ancient Jewish Kings and was probably composed to be sung during a coronation ceremony. On a spiritual level, the Church has always interpreted this Psalm as referring to Jesus the Messiah.
"Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?" Psalm 2:1 (1979 BCP). In this fallen world there is always going to be saber rattling. Nations are perpetually threatening war on each other. Today it is North Korea and Iran, tomorrow it will be others. There will never truly be peace until Our Lord returns. Jesus said that we must expect there to be "wars and rumors of wars," until the end of time. But God considers the threats of earthly rulers to be empty and from the viewpoint of eternity human conflicts mean little.
The King James Version translates this verse as "Why do the heathen rage , and the people imagine a vain thing?". The "raging heathen" brings to my mind images of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Madeline Murray O'Hare who deny existence of God and are angry that anybody else does.
"Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes plot together, against the LORD and against his Anointed? Let us break their yoke ," they say; " let us cast off their bonds from us.". (Psalm 2:2-3). From a literal and historical standpoint, these verses refer to the revolt of vassals of the ancient Kings of Judah. In Hebrew the word Messiah means "the anointed one" and this was the title given to the ancient Israelite kings. In Greek "Messiah" is translated as the word Christ.
The Kingdoms of the earth have risen and continue to rise against Christ and his Church. The increasingly militantly secular government of the United States continues to enact laws and regulations in disregard of divine command. We murder our unborn children and we order everyone to pay for it. We mandate same sex marriages and command that everyone must agree with it. Although we do not have officially mandated atheism yet, that experiment has been tried many times. It seems that men must constantly try to live without God and to try to make themselves God. Some of the past "kings of the Earth" who sought to destroy the LORD's anointed include the Radicals of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and the Communists. Joseph Stalin asked with derision how many divisions the Pope had. Apparently, in the end the Pope had more divisions than the Soviet Union. Stalin's USSR is no more but Christ's Church is with us still and shall stand forever until the end of time.
"He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; the Lord has them in derision. Then he speaks to them in his wrath, and his rage fills them with terror.". (Psalm 2:4-5). God is not impressed with human beings and their pretensions. Earthly rulers may believe that they are really in charge of something. Humans in authority may really believe that they can control events. However, as Jesus told Pilate "You would have no power over me at all if it were not given to you from above." (John 19:11, New Living Translation). The power of earthly rulers is granted from above. Those who exercise civil power with no regard for divine law will, sooner or later, answer to higher authority.
"I myself have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.". (Psalm 2:6). The hill of Zion refers in a literal sense to the City of Jerusalem and more specifically the Temple Mount. On a spiritual level Zion is a metaphor for the place where God is and where we shall be together with him. I am reminded of the old Protestant hymn which goes "Children of God we are marching to Zion," and the Southern Gospel Spiritual called "The Old Ship of Zion". The King is Christ and the Holy Hill of Zion is the Church. Eventually all of the Church, the new Israel, will be gathered with the Lord in the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Let me announce the decree of the LORD; he said to me 'You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.". (Psalm 2:7). The New Testament quotes this verse as referring to Christ. (Hebrews 1:5). The Father eternally begets the Son. God has come in the flesh and become a man and he has died and risen to conquer Hell and death. Alleluia.
"Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.". (Psalm 2:8). Regardless that men believe that they are in charge of something, Christ is the true ruler. Like C.S.Lewis said, earth may now be occupied by the Devil but the true King is going to return.
"You shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery. ' And now, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Submit to the LORD with fear, and with trembling bow before him; Lest he be angry and you perish; for his wrath is quickly kindled." (Psalm 2: 9 - 12). This imagery is used again in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:5; 19:15). All the works of humans will come to an end and the works of the wicked will be destroyed along with them. Those who do not turn to God for mercy will ultimately perish. We are warned that God's wrath will come upon us quickly and without warning.
"Happy are they all who take refuge in him" (Psalm 2:13). Maranatha. Amen.