Summer with the Psalms: July 25, 2021
Psalm 2, Psalm 144
Growing up, we each had assigned seats at the dinner table. Dad was at one end and mom was at the other. As the oldest, I sat at my dad’s right hand. My dad frequently traveled to Latin America for his work, and before he left, he would pass authority to my next youngest brother (the oldest of the 4), saying, “You are the oldest, most responsible son at home”. (I was always the oldest, most responsible daughter, so there was no need to bestow more power on my shoulders for a short time!) By bestowing that kind of title on my brother, my dad was saying– you are responsible, so act accordingly, take over some of my roles while I am away, help your mom, be an example to your younger brothers. One of the most visible demonstrations of this shift in power was that he was allowed to sit in dad’s seat at the table. Dad was selecting a proxy and giving my brother extra powers (which, by the way, he usually did not hesitate to use). Over the years, as brothers grew up and left home, the “oldest, most responsible son at home” title changed from one to another, and different brothers were given the seat of authority.
To my knowledge, we never had a written job description for the oldest, most responsible son at home, but it was understood by all of us what responsibilities that title carried for the bearer. Neither do we have a clearly written job description in our scriptures for a Messiah, but we begin to learn about his authority, his responsibilities, and the wide reach of his impact on the world right here in Psalm 2. The Hebrew word messiah is translated as the “anointed one”, the one designated by God to rule, who is set apart and anointed with oil by a representative of God, usually a prophet. The word is found about 40 times in the Old Testament, mostly in 1-2 Samuel and the Psalms, and normally used as a synonym for “king”. The Greek translation of messiah is the very familiar title, Christ.
The psalms point to a messiah as God’s strategy to do on earth what God wills in heaven. In the beginning verses of Psalm 2, although the nations around Israel are conspiring against the Lord and the Lord’s anointed, the Lord is on the throne, in the power seat, at the head of the table, if you will. First God laughs at the antics of the surrounding kings and rulers. Then God’s anger is whipped up and God makes it clear that THE KING, the anointed one, the messiah, has been set by God on the holy hill, or Mt. Zion.
Using a messiah/king to bring about God’s will on the earth builds on the other themes we have focused on during our “Summer with the Psalms” series. We first looked at God’s universal sovereignty over all nations and all creation; then we looked at God’s ongoing commitment to justice and righteousness, or right relationships, among human beings and between God and humans. Last Sunday as we gathered in God’s creation under the tent, we focused on the theology of ecology and the call to care for God’s creation.
Psalm 2, together with Psalm 1, create a dual introduction to the entire book of the psalms. Psalm 1 centers on the tension experienced by an individual who is faced with wickedness in society. The psalm introduces one answer: following the instructions, commands, and decrees of God is the way to live a faithful life. Psalm 2 centers on the whole community of faith which continually faces threats from surrounding nations (opponents or enemies) contending for power. The psalm offers an answer in the announcement of the anointed one—a messiah who is also identified here as the Son of God. The proclamation is that God will deliver those jostling nations into the hands of the anointed one, for the ends of the earth shall be his possession, God will make the nations his heritage. The son is the vice-regent of God, given responsibility, authority and power.
Messiah in the psalms kindles a hope for something more than a good king who walks in God’s ways. There is deep inside the Israelite psyche a hope for being the best, the biggest, the strongest, the most powerful nation. Sounds kind of familiar, actually. This hope does not really ever become reality for this small group of God’s chosen people. Aside from the extensive (but still not comprehensive) reach of King David’s power and control, the people of Israel never really experienced a time when they could describe themselves as the authority over all other nations. The ends of the earth were never literally in the possession of one of their kings. It was always a hope, a desire, a goal, born out of their solid faith in the power of their God, and now, in the power and authority of God’s anointed, or messiah. By the time Jesus was born, the people were under the iron grip of the Roman government, creating an even deeper longing for a messiah of God to come and take over, to lift them out of oppression, and to institute God’s kingdom on earth.
This concept of a messiah is also found in the words of the prophet Isaiah, who described a coming leader who will be a shoot out of the stump of Jesse (David’s father)—meaning someone in the lineage of Jesse, Jesse’s family tree—a new king who would come with power, authority, and peace. He would be called wonderful counselor, almighty God, everlasting Father and Prince of Peace—all titles that we can easily use for God as well as for God’s vice-regent, or proxy. We are very accustomed to the title, for it was picked up in the New Testament gospels, there always referring to Jesus as the Christ (using the Greek term) or as the Messiah (using the Hebrew term). Our Christian faith is predicated on a belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah of God sent to reconcile us with God our Creator once again and to usher in the kingdom of God. Jesus spends a lot of his ministry teaching, preaching, and healing in various Palestinian communities, feet on the ground, a heart for the needs of the people, and a mind focused on God and God’s will. As you know, Jesus ended up not being the kind of messiah the people were expecting, but that is getting ahead of ourselves!
Beginning with psalm 2, we can learn more about the job description for the anointed one. What would be his responsibilities, over whom would he have authority, and where does his authority come from? This job description will continue to be developed and added to as time goes on, describing a crucial role in God’s plan for the world that finally will be filled by Jesus himself.
Perhaps we can list these responsibilities in the job description of this messiah:
The messiah is chosen by God to bring about God’s will for righteousness, justice and peace on the earth. This will be accomplished by:
- Keeping his or her feet on the ground, keeping the ability to relate to the issues faced by the people.
- Standing in for God. (Kind of like the oldest, most responsible son at home). The messiah is God’s agent on earth.
- Serving as a deliverer, freeing people from oppression or slavery.
- Exercising sovereign power over all nations, not just Israel.
- Ruling with righteousness, justice, and peace just as God does.
- Reporting in regularly to the supervisor, his or her father, God.
The messiah is God’s strategy to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Certainly God works through various kings throughout the history of Israel, but unfortunately most of them never consistently live up to God’s expectations of being a responsible agent for God. Each one is anointed. Some are referred to as God’s sons. Here in Psalm 2, we find the two terms together… the anointed one of the Lord who is called the Son who will be given the ends of the earth as his possession. The anointed one will make the nations who speak against God tremble in their boots, instructing them to seek refuge, shelter, rest in God.
In no way do we see ourselves as messiahs—in fact a person with a messiah complex is dangerous to the rest of the community. As Christians, we understand the messiah to be Jesus alone. Yet when you look at the job description, you will see that some of the responsibilities do belong to us, for we are indeed the oldest, most responsible children of God. Each of us is called to live as representatives of God in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our churches. God gives us power and authority to demonstrate God’s righteousness, justice and peace. We are the ones who can act and speak and illustrate the kind of kingdom God is building on this earth. So let us act accordingly. Amen.