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Psalm 2:1 - Why do the nations rage...

Nahum O'Brien on March 26, 2018


Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

The psalm begins with a question. The psalmist denotes a sense of astonishment concerning the actions of the nations or heathen. Hengtenberg notes, “the ‘why’ is an expression of astonishment and horror at the equally foolish and impious attempt of the revolters.” The psalmist is questioning the foolishness of the nations’ expressed hatred towards the Creator of heaven and earth. For what purpose or to what end do the nations rage against God? 

Who does the raging? The nations. That is, the heathens, or the foreign nations, the Gentiles. However, it is interesting to note here the New Testament usage by Peter and John. Turn with me to Acts 4:23-28:

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Therefore, the apostles considered the fulfillment of this messianic prophecy to have occurred against the Lord Jesus Christ. Additionally, the people of Israel were counted among the nations, heathen or Gentiles. Keep this place in your Bible as we will return to it shortly. But for now, it will suffice to note that this raging is done by all nations, including the people of Israel. 

Now, what does the psalmist mean by “rage.” The Hebrew term appears in the past tense and denotes rage, pride, or restiveness (which means an impatient attitude towards control or restraint). The term may allude to the rolling and roaring of the tumultuous sea, i.e. The raging sea; or a horse that rears up, neigh’s and then storms forward into battle. It is not an internal feeling but an outward agitation.

The second verb the psalmist utilizes is “plot.” This Hebrew term appears in the future tense and denotes an imagination, a murmuring, in context, against the Lord. So you have the past tense of “rage” combined with the future tense of “plot” combined to describe the vanity of the nations against the Lord. The psalmist describes the nations’ rage and plotting to be vanity, empty, worthless, or for not purpose. Why? Precisely because who they are raging against, the LORD, Jehovah, the self-existing and eternal One. As the proverb states, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand (Proverbs 19:21).” The psalmist will later declare: 

Psalm 33:10 - “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”

Psalm 115:3 - “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” 

Psalm 135:6 - “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

The peoples of the nations rage and plot against the LORD in vain. Not only do the peoples of the nations, but their kings and rulers as well.