|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
2:1-6 We are here told who would appear as adversaries to Christ. As this world is the kingdom of Satan, unconverted men, of every rank, party, and character, are stirred up by him to oppose the cause of God. But the rulers of the earth generally have been most active. The truths and precepts of Christianity are against ambitious projects and worldly lusts. We are told what they aim at in this opposition. They would break asunder the bands of conscience, and the cords of God's commandments; they will not receive, but cast them away as far as they can. These enemies can show no good cause for opposing so just and holy a government, which, if received by all, would bring a heaven upon earth. They can hope for no success in so opposing so powerful a kingdom. The Lord Jesus has all power both in heaven and in earth, and is Head over all things to the church, notwithstanding the restless endeavours of his enemies. Christ's throne is set up in his church, that is, in the hearts of all believers.
Verse 1. - Why do the heathen rage? The psalmist writes with a vision before his eyes. He "sees Jehovah upon his throne, and Messiah entering upon his universal dominion. The enemies of both on earth rise up against them with frantic tumult, and vainly strive to east off the fetters of their rule." Hence his sudden outburst. "What ails the heathen (goim)," he says. "that they rage?" or "make an uproar" (Kay), or "assemble tumultuously" (margin of Authorized Version and Revised,Version)? What are they about? What do they design? And why do the people - rather, the peoples, or "the masses" (Kay) - imagine (or, meditate) a vain thing? It must be "a vain thing;" i.e. a purpose which will come to naught, if it is something opposed to the will of Jehovah and Messiah. The vision shows the psalmist Jew and Gentile banded together against the gospel of Christ. Its scope is not exhausted by the exposition of Acts 4:26, but extends to the whole struggle between Christianity on the one hand, and Judaism and paganism on the other. "The peoples" still to this day "imagine a vain thing" - imagine that Christianity will succumb to the assaults made upon it - will fade, die away, and disappear.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Why do the Heathen rage,.... Or "the nations"; which some understand of the Jews, who are so called, Genesis 17:5; because of their various tribes; and of their rage against the Messiah there have been many instances; as when they gnashed upon him with their teeth, and at several times took up stones to stone him, and cried out in a most furious and wrathful manner, crucify him, crucify him, Luke 4:28; though it is best to interpret it of the Gentiles, as the apostles seem to do in Acts 4:27. The Hebrew word translated "rage" is by one Jewish writer (z) explained by "associate" or "meet together"; and which is often the sense of the word in the Syriac and Chaldee languages, in which it is more used; and another (a) says, that it is expressive of "gathering together, and of a multitude"; it intends a tumultuous gathering together, as is that of a mob, with great confusion and noise (b); and so the Gentiles, the Roman soldiers, gathered together, even multitudes of them, and came out with Judas at the head of them, with swords and staves, to apprehend Christ and bring him to the chief priests and elders, Matthew 26:47; these assembled together in Pilate's hall, when Christ was condemned to be crucified, and insulted him in a most rude and shocking manner, Matthew 26:2; and many are the instances of the Gentiles rising in mobs, and appearing in riotous assemblies, making tumults and uproars against the apostles to oppose them, and the spread of the Gospel by them; to which they were sometimes instigated by the unbelieving Jews, and sometimes by their own worldly interest; see Acts 13:50, to which may be added, as instances of this tumult and rage, the violent persecutions both of the Pagan emperors and of the Papists, which last are called Gentiles as well as the other; for this respects the kingdom of Christ, or the Gospel dispensations, from the beginning to the end;
and the people imagine a vain thing? by "the people" are meant the people of Israel, who were once God's peculiar people, and who were distinguished by him with peculiar favours above all others, and in whom this prophecy has been remarkably fulfilled; they imagine it and meditated a vain thing when they thought the Messiah would be a temporal King, and set up a kingdom, on earth in great worldly splendour and glory, and rejected Jesus, the true Messiah, because he did not answer to these their carnal imaginations; they meditated a vain thing when they sought to take away the good name and reputation of Christ, by fixing opprobrious names and injurious charges upon him, for Wisdom has been justified of her children, Matthew 11:19; and so they did when they meditated his death, with those vain hopes that he should die and his name perish, and should lie down in the grave and never rise more, Psalm 41:5; for he not only rose from the dead, but his name was more famous after his death than before; they imagined a vain thing when they took so much precaution to prevent the disciples stealing his body out of the sepulchre, and giving out that he was risen from the dead, and more especially when he was risen, to hire the soldiers to tell a lie in order to stifle and discredit the report of it; they meditated vain things when they attempted to oppose the apostles, and hinder the preaching of the Gospel by them, which they often did, as the Acts of the Apostles testify; and it was after one of these attempts that the apostles, in their address to God, made use of this very passage of Scripture, Acts 4:2; and they still meditate a vain thing in that they imagine Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah, and that the Messiah is not yet come; and in that they are expecting and looking for him. Now the Psalmist, or the Holy Ghost by him, asks "why" all this? what should move the Gentiles and the Jews to so much rage, tumult, and opposition against an holy and innocent person, and who went about doing good as he did? what end they could have in it, or serve by it? and how they could expect to succeed? what would all their rage and not, and vain imagination, signify? it is strongly suggested hereby that it would all be in vain and to no purpose, as well as what follows.
(z) Aben Ezra in loc. (a) R. Sol. Ben Melech in Ioc. (b) "congregrant se turmatim", Vatablus; "eum tumultu", Munster, Tigurine version.
The Treasury of David
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
We have, in these first three verses, a description of the hatred of human nature against the Christ of God. No better comment is needed upon it than the apostolic song in Acts 4:27, Acts 4:28 : "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." The Psalm begins abruptly with an angry interrogation; and well it may: it is surely but little to be wondered at, that the sight of creatures in arms against their God should amaze the psalmist's mind. We see the heathen raging, roaring like the sea, tossed to and fro with restless waves, as the ocean in a storm; and then we mark the people in their hearts imagining a vain thing against God. Where there is much rage there is generally some folly, and in this case there is an excess of it. Note, that the commotion is not caused by the people only, but their leaders foment the rebellion. "The kings of the earth set themselves." In determined malice they arrayed themselves in opposition against God. It was not temporary rage, but deep-seated hate, for they set themselves resolutely to withstand the Prince of Peace. "And the rulers take counsel together." They go about their warfare craftily, not with foolish haste, but deliberately. They use all the skill which art can give. Like Pharaoh, they cry, "Let us deal wisely with them." O that men were half as careful in God's service to serve him wisely, as his enemies are to attack his kingdom craftily. Sinners have their wits about them, and yet saints are dull. But what say they? what is the meaning of this commotion? "Let us break their bands asunder." "Let us be free to commit all manner of abominations. Let us be our own gods. Let us rid ourselves of all restraint." Gathering impudence by the traitorous proposition of rebellion, they add - "let us cast away;" as if it were an easy matter, - "let us fling off 'their cords from us.'" What! O ye kings, do ye think yourselves Samsons? and are the bands of Omnipotence but as green withs before you? Do you dream that you shall snap to pieces and destroy the mandates of God - the decrees of the Most High - as if they were but tow? And do ye say, "Let us cast away their cords from us?" Yes! There are monarchs who have spoken thus, and there are still rebels upon thrones. However mad the resolution to revolt from God, it is one in which man has persevered ever since his creation, and he continues in it to this very day. The glorious reign of Jesus in the latter day will not be consummated, until a terrible struggle has convulsed the nations. His coming will be as a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap, and the day thereof shall burn as an oven. Earth loves not her rightful monarch, but clings to the usurper's sway: the terrible conflicts of the last days will illustrate both the world's love of sin and Jehovah's power to give the kingdom to his only Begotten. To a graceless neck the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light. We may judge ourselves by this, do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us?
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ps 2:1-12. The number and authorship of this Psalm are stated (Ac 4:25; 13:33). Though the warlike events of David's reign may have suggested its imagery, the scenes depicted and the subjects presented can only find a fulfilment in the history and character of Jesus Christ, to which, as above cited and in Heb 1:5; 5:5, the New Testament writers most distinctly testify. In a most animated and highly poetical style, the writer, in "four stanzas of three verses each," sets forth the inveterate and furious, though futile, hostility of men to God and His anointed, God's determination to carry out His purpose, that purpose as stated more fully by His Son, the establishment of the Mediatorial kingdom, and the imminent danger of all who resist, as well as the blessing of all who welcome this mighty and triumphant king.
1. Why do the heathen, &c.—Beholding, in prophetic vision, the peoples and nations, as if in a tumultuous assembly, raging with a fury like the raging of the sea, designing to resist God's government, the writer breaks forth into an exclamation in which are mingled surprise at their folly, and indignation at their rebellion.
heathen—nations generally, not as opposed to Jews.
the people—or, literally, "peoples," or races of men.
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