This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book of commentary on the psalms prayed from the perspective of transcendent materialism.
Background. A royal psalm for the accession of a new king. It is focused on affirming the legitimacy of the king by establishing his choice by Yahweh. Canaanite tributaries are warned not to use the occasion to revolt. After the exile when Israel had no subordinates it would have been taken to refer to a future fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise of ascendancy to David’s successors. Yahweh, after all, is the universal God of creation and disposes of all “the nations” as he sees fit. The universal dominion of Yahweh’s king is rooted in the promises to David, hence it was assimilated into the Messianic expectations. Israel’s kings are Yahweh’s anointed, his adopted sons following a Mesopotamian model, therefore to oppose the king is to oppose Yahweh and face his destructive wrath.
Roland Murphy [Jerome Biblical Commentary, OT, p. 526a] says “in one of the variant readings to Acts 13:33, Psalm 2 is called the first psalm.” This suggests that for some pre-Christian Hebrew manuscripts, placing the royal psalm of Yahweh’s promises to David at the beginning of the book established the theme of the entire collection. It helps us understand why Jewish Christians, for whom belief that Jesus was the messiah was believed confirmed by a chain of messianic prophesies that traditionally served for Jewish reflection and anticipation, would have emphatically applied this psalm both to Christ and to the (royal) persons designated to rule in his name subsequent to the creation of the Roman-Christian theocracy in the fourth century.
Augustine saw Christ as the king, and the “bonds” and “cords” of control as the Christian religion imposed on all the lands and peoples of the Roman Empire: “the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations.” [St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms, “Psalm 2,” Kindle Location 280. Kindle Edition.]
Famously set to triumphant music by Handel in 1742 as part of the Messiah oratorio, this psalm in the King James version has entered western culture as an affirmation of the Christian belief in the universal dominion of Christ and by implication the supremacy of the Christian religion and its adherents. Christian nations like England, where Handel was living when he composed the music, were even then eagerly conquering, colonizing and plundering people all over the globe in the name of Christian mission.
Reflection. The fixed features of this ancient poem have all changed for us. We know that it is not Yahweh but LIFE ― living matter ― that has created and enlivens this universe. If Christians insist on thinking of Christ as the psalmist’s king, we know it can no longer be taken as a prophetic literalism the way they have traditionally understood it. The synoptic gospels use verse 7 of this psalm, “you are my son, this day I have begotten you,” to describe the vision that launched Jesus’ career as rabbi. But the psalmist did not intend that, and neither do we. Jesus is not the “only-begotten son” of LIFE itself requiring that all people take him as model and teacher or submit to the Church that claims to represent him. Jesus is “son,” yes, but just like the rest of us. We are all the offspring of LIFE. Jesus unreservedly embraced LIFE as his “father” and when we do the same we join with him as agents of LIFE along with any other human being who makes that choice. We are free to accept Jesus as model and teacher, but the LIFE he reveals is the same LIFE that enlivens all of us, regardless of religious tradition. Jesus is LIFE the way we all are: he displays LIFE’s contours in his moral choices, affective attitudes and social commitments. Like all of us Jesus was enlivened by matter’s living intelligent human energy thirsty for justice … the difference, perhaps, was the depth of his fidelity to LIFE’s selfless profligate generosity; but it’s a matter of degree, not kind. Jesus can be a model for us because he is made of exactly the same clay as we are.
We reject the theocratic implications of Augustine’s reading. We are completely opposed to the belief that a preeminent empire or religious institution has been chosen by LIFE as its exclusive agent and given hegemony over the human race. We do not believe LIFE chooses rulers or religions to act in its name, any more than it intervenes with the processes of plate tectonics to prevent earthquakes. LIFE acts by enlivening the people who confer legitimacy on the systems of governance and religious practices that they themselves have chosen to express and protect LIFE, just as LIFE sustains the natural order in every respect without interference or interruption. There are no miracles … not even moral, psychological ones.
It cannot be emphasized enough: the tribalism that is intrinsically embedded in the ancient Hebrew view of the world … a tribalism upgraded by Augustinian Catholicism into Roman theocratic imperialism … is the most stubborn of the pathological legacies inherited by us from our tradition. It seems almost impossible to extirpate, especially after it has been applied to such devastating effect in an exploitive global colonialism whose dynamics continue to produce enormous wealth for its historical perpetrators and a corresponding destitution in its victims. The West is invested in the belief in its own superiority and the Christian religion was an essential factor in the creation of that fantasy. It is our demon par excellence, and if the psalms are to become an instrument of LIFE, that demon must be exorcized.
The very fact that Jesus and his message could have been taken hostage for so long and at such levels of moral inversion by the Roman theocracy and its successors, should be standing proof that Christianity ― and more emphatically its primitive Roman Catholic iteration ― could not possibly be the special choice of LIFE. Moreover, if at some future moment, leveraged by the economic and political power of the imperialist West, Christianity should ever come to be the world’s dominant religion, it will be further proof that there is no divine providence as commonly understood.
Augustine’s naïve, puerile version of divine providence had to conclude that “the way things are” has been foreseen and willed by “God.” It represents an unquestioning acceptance of the political status quo. It is the most pernicious (and transparent) of deceits, and stands cheek by jowl with anthropomorphic theism at the foundational underpinnings of injustice in western society. The institutionalized acceptance of injustice, evidenced in the perennial existence of the master-slave relationship in Christian society inherited from Rome, is a persistent outrage against human synteresis ― our spontaneous conscientious revulsion at injustice. It constitutes a raw open wound that threatens to go septic at any moment and destroy the entire organism. To tolerate injustice is to contradict human intelligence — to disconnect yourself from LIFE. You cannot do that without precipitating your own death.
The social “bonds” and “cords” that we acknowledge and impose upon ourselves are the norms of justice that create a family harmony and creative equality among all the peoples of the earth. But universalism does not mean a robotic homogeneity. The norms of justice and love apply to sustaining cultures and traditions as well as the eradication of economic and political inequality. The human surrender to the dictates of conscience creates a family of peoples who are empowered to come to a collaborative consensus on the issues of economic production and distribution that work for the survival of all. Our “Israel” is the global community; and the “rebel nations” are those people and groups, blinded by their erroneous self-definition as superior to others, who currently refuse to submit to the demands of LIFE, deny our global family identity and would consign us to the eternal nightmare of internecine warfare. Their interest in others is limited to discerning the weaknesses that will allow the pillaging of their possessions and the exploiting of their labor. This is not merely repugnant to our sensibilities, no one committed to LIFE will tolerate it.
1 Why this tumult among nations,
among peoples this useless murmuring?
2 They arise, the kings of the earth,
princes plot against the Lord and his Anointed.
3 “Come, let us break their fetters, come, let us cast off their yoke.”
Why do people pursue the interests of their tribe alone? Why do they set themselves against LIFE and the human family? Why are they ever planning ways to dominate, exploit and enslave others? They refuse to obey the demands of LIFE.
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord is laughing them to scorn.
5 Then he will speak in his anger, his rage will strike them with terror.
6 “It is I who have set up my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 (I will announce the decree of the Lord:) The Lord said to me:
“You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day.
But LIFE will not be thwarted. By rejecting LIFE they isolate themselves. Mutual hatred ultimately spells death. But as for you, child, LIFE wants to make you its champion. And it will transform you so the world can see you are LIFE’s own offspring.
8 Ask and I will shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron,
shatter them like a potter’s vessel.”
You will bring people together; the tribal blindness will disappear, the age-old walls of separation will crumble into dust at your touch. Yes, you, LIFE’s child, will do this.
10 Now, O kings, understand, take warning, rulers of the earth;
11 serve the Lord with awe and trembling, pay him your homage
12 lest he be angry and you perish; for suddenly his anger will blaze. Blessed are they who put their trust in God.
Be warned, therefore, you who take your stand against LIFE and the human family. That includes my own selfish urges. This is not a trifling matter … . Life and death are in the balance. Obey LIFE! Embrace LIFE and LIFE will flourish in you and through you.