Psalm 2:1
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) Why do the heathen rage?—Better, Why did nations band together, or muster? The Hebrew occurs only here as a verb, but derivatives occur in Pss. 4:14, Psalm 64:2: in the first, of a festive crowd; in the second, of a conspiracy allied with some evil intent. This fixes the meaning here, band together, possibly as in Aquila’s translation, with added sense of tumult. The LXX. have “grown restive,” like horses; Vulg., “have raged.”

Imagine.—Better, meditate, or plan. Literally, as in Psalm 1:2, only here in bad sense, mutter, referring to the whispered treasons passing to and fro among the nations, “a maze of mutter’d threats and mysteries.” In old English “imagine” was used in a bad sense; thus Chaucer, “nothing list him to be imaginatif i.e., suspicious. The verb in this clause, as in the next, is in the present, the change being expressive: Why did they plot? what do they hope to gain by it?

Psalm 2:1. Why do the heathen rage? — Hebrew, גוים, goim, the nations, namely, 1st, Those bordering on Judea in David’s time, who raged against him, when exalted to the throne of Judah and Israel, 2 Samuel 5:6; 2 Samuel 5:17; 1 Chronicles 14:8; 1 Chronicles , 2 d, The Greeks and Romans, and other heathen nations, who raged against and persecuted Christ and his cause and people, Luke 18:32; Acts 4:25. Upon what provocation, and to what end or purpose, do they do so? And the people — Namely, the Jews or Israelites, who also combined against David, 2 Samuel 2:8, and against Christ, Acts 4:27; imagine a vain thing? — A thing which they shall never be able to effect, and which, if they could accomplish it, would produce consequences to themselves and others very different from those they expect.

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.Why do the heathen rage - "Why do nations make a noise?" Prof. Alexander. The word "heathen" here - גוים gôyim - means properly "nations," with out respect, so far as the word is concerned, to the character of the nations. It was applied by the Hebrews to the surrounding nations, or to all other people than their own; and as those nations were in fact pagans, or idolators, the word came to have this signification. Nehemiah 5:8; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 23:30; Ezekiel 30:11; compare אדם 'âdâm, Jeremiah 32:20. The word Gentile among the Hebrews (Greek, ἔθνος ethnos expressed the same thing. Matthew 4:15; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 10:5, Matthew 10:18; Matthew 12:21, et soepe. The word rendered "rage" - רגשׁ râgash - means to make a noise or tumult, and would be expressive of violent commotion or agitation. It occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures only in this place, though the corresponding Chaldee word - רגשׁ regash is found in Daniel 6:6, Daniel 6:11, Daniel 6:15 - rendered in Daniel 6:6, "assembled together," in the margin "came tumultuously," - and in Daniel 6:11, Daniel 6:15, rendered "assembled." The psalmist here sees the nations in violent agitation or commotion, as if under high excitement, engaged in accomplishing some purpose - rushing on to secure something, or to prevent something. The image of a mob, or of a tumultuous unregulated assemblage, would probably convey the idea of the psalmist. The word itself does not enable us to determine how extensive this agitation would be, but it is evidently implied that it would be a somewhat general movement; a movement in which more than one nation or people would participate. The matter in hand was something that affected the nations generally, and which would produce violent agitation among them.

And the people - לאמים Le'umiym. A word expressing substantially the same idea, that of people, or nations, and referring here to the same thing as the word rendered "heathen" - according to the laws of Hebrew parallelism in poetry. It is the people here that are seen in violent agitation: the conduct of the rulers, as associated with them, is referred to in the next verse.

Imagine - Our word "imagine" does not precisely express the idea here. We mean by it, "to form a notion or idea in the mind; to fancy." Webster. The Hebrew word, הגה hâgâh, is the same which, in Psalm 1:2, is rendered "meditate." See the notes at that verse. It means here that the mind is engaged in deliberating on it; that it plans, devises, or forms a purpose; - in other words, the persons referred to are thinking about some purpose which is here called a vain purpose; they are meditating some project which excites deep thought, but which cannot be effectual.

A vain thing - That is, which will prove to be a vain thing, or a thing which they cannot accomplish. It cannot mean that they were engaged in forming plans which they supposed would be vain - for no persons would form such plans; but that they were engaged in designs which the result would show to be unsuccessful. The reference here is to the agitation among the nations in respect to the divine purpose to set up the Messiah as king over the world, and to the opposition which this would create among the nations of the earth. See the notes at Psalm 2:2. An ample fulfillment of this occurred in the opposition to him when he came in the flesh, and in the resistance everywhere made since his death to his reign upon the earth. Nothing has produced more agitation in the world (compare Acts 17:6), and nothing still excites more determined resistance. The truths taught in this verse are:

(1) that sinners are opposed - even so much as to produce violent agitation of mind, and a fixed and determined purpose - to the plans and decrees of God, especially with respect to the reign of the Messiah; and

(2) that their plans to resist this will be vain and ineffectual; wisely as their schemes may seem to be laid, and determined as they themselves are in regard to their execution, yet they must find them vain.

What is implied here of the particular plans against the Messiah, is true of all the purposes of sinners, when they array themselves against the government of God.

PSALM 2

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.

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? THE ARGUMENT

The penman of this Psalm was David, as is affirmed, Acts 4:25. As for the matter or subject of it, it may seem to have some respect unto David, and to his advancement to and settlement in the throne of Judah and Israel; but the chief design and scope of it, and the primary intention of the Holy Ghost in it, was to describe the Messiah and his kingdom, as is manifest,

1. From express testimonies of the New Testament to that purpose, as Acts 4:25 13:33 Hebrews 1:5 5:5; and

2. From the consent of the ancient Hebrew writers, who did unanimously expound it so, as is confessed by their own brethren, particularly by Rabbi Solomon Jarchi upon this place; who hath this memorable passage, Our doctors expounded this Psalm of the King Messiah, but that we may answer the heretics (by which he means the Christians, as all know) it is expedient to interpret it of David’s person, as the words sound; which words, although they are left out of the latter editions of that book, either by the fraud of Jews, or carelessness or mistake of others, yet are extant in the ancient editions of it.

3. From divers passages of the Psalm, which do not agree to David, but to Christ only, the title of Son, of which see Hebrews 1:4,5, the extent of his kingdom, Psalm 2:8, and Divine worship, Psalm 2:11,12.

The kingdom of Christ, and the opposition of the heathen foretold, Psalm 2:1-7. God giveth him the earth for his possession, Psalm 2:8,9. He summons all the kings and judges of the earth to submit themselves to him, Psalm 2:10-12.

Why? upon what provocation, or to what end or purpose?

The heathen, or, Gentiles; who did so against David, as we see, 2 Samuel 5:6,17 1 Chronicles 14:8, &c.; and against Christ, Luke 18:32 Acts 4:25, &c.

And the people: this is either another expression of the same thing, as is usual in Scripture; or as the former word notes the Gentiles, so this may design the Jews or Israelites, who also combined against David, 2 Samuel 2:8, &c., and against Christ, Acts 4:27, though they were all of one nation, and descended from one and the same mother, as this word signifies, and it is used Genesis 25:23.

Imagine a vain thing; what they shall never be able to effect; and if they could, it would do them no good, as they fancy, but great hurt.

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.

Why do the {a} heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

(a) The conspiracy of the Gentiles, the murmuring of the Jews and power of kings cannot prevail against Christ.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. Why] The Psalmist gazes on the great tumult of the nations mustering for war, till the sight forces from him this question of mingled astonishment and indignation. Their insurrection is at once causeless and hopeless.

the heathen] Better, as R.V., the nations. Gôyim, variously rendered in A.V. nations, heathen, Gentiles, denotes the non-Israelite nations as distinguished from and often in antagonism to the people of Jehovah. Sometimes the word has a moral significance and may rightly be rendered heathen.

rage] Rather, as in marg., tumultuously assemble; or, throng together. Cp. the cognate subst. in Psalm 64:2, insurrection, R.V. tumult, marg. throng.

the people] R.V. rightly, peoples. Comp. Psalm 44:2; Psalm 44:14.

imagine] Or, meditate: the same word as in Psalm 1:2; but in a bad sense, as in Psalm 38:12.

1–3. The muster of the nations and its design.

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. Psalm 2:1The Psalm begins with a seven line strophe, ruled by an interrogative Wherefore. The mischievous undertaking condemns itself, It is groundless and fruitless. This certainty is expressed, with a tinge of involuntary astonishment, in the question. למּה followed by a praet. enquires the ground of such lawlessness: wherefore have the peoples banded together so tumultuously (Aquila: ἐθορυβήθησαν)? and followed by a fut., the aim of this ineffectual action: wherefore do they imagine emptiness? ריק might be adverbial and equivalent to לריק, but it is here, as in Psalm 4:3, a governed accusative; for הגה which signifies in itself only quiet inward musing and yearning, expressing itself by a dull muttering (here: something deceitful, as in Psalm 38:13), requires an object. By this ריק the involuntary astonishment of the question justifies itself: to what purpose is this empty affair, i.e., devoid of reason and continuance? For the psalmist, himself a subject and member of the divine kingdom, is too well acquainted with Jahve and His Anointed not to recognise beforehand the unwarrantableness and impotency of such rebellion. That these two things are kept in view, is implied by Psalm 2:2, which further depicts the position of affairs without being subordinated to the למה. The fut. describes what is going on at the present time: they set themselves in position, they take up a defiant position (התיצּב as in 1 Samuel 17:16), after which we again (comp. the reverse order in Psalm 83:6) have a transition to the perf. which is the more uncoloured expression of the actual: נוסד (with יחד as the exponent of reciprocity) prop. to press close and firm upon one another, then (like Arab. sâwada, which, according to the correct observation of the Turkish Kamus, in its signification clam cum aliquo locutus est, starts from the very same primary meaning of pressing close to any object): to deliberate confidentially together (as Psalm 31:14 and נועץ Psalm 71:10). The subjects מלכי־ארץ and רוזנים (according to the Arabic razuna, to be weighty: the grave, dignitaries, σεμνοί, augusti) are only in accordance with the poetic style without the article. It is a general rising of the people of the earth against Jahve and His משׁיח, Χριστὸς, the king anointed by Him by means of the holy oil and most intimately allied to Him. The psalmist hears (Psalm 2:3) the decision of the deliberating princes. The pathetic suff. êmō instead of êhém refers back to Jahve and His Anointed. The cohortatives express the mutual kindling of feeling; the sound and rhythm of the exclamation correspond to the dull murmur of hatred and threatening defiance: the rhythm is iambic, and then anapaestic. First they determine to break asunder the fetters (מוסרות equals מאסרות) to which the את, which is significant in the poetical style, points, then to cast away the cords from them (ממּנוּ a nobis, this is the Palestinian mode of writing, whereas the Babylonians said and wrote mimeenuw a nobis in distinction from ממּנוּ ab eo, B. Sota 35a) partly with the vexation of captives, partly with the triumph of freedmen. They are, therefore, at present subjects of Jahve and His Anointed, and not merely because the whole world is Jahve's, but because He has helped His Anointed to obtain dominion over them. It is a battle for freedom, upon which they are entering, but a freedom that is opposed to God.
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