“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Psalm 2:1 (ESV)

Do you remember the lie that serpent told to Eve in the garden of Eden? Adam and Eve had everything they needed in the lush haven of the garden. They walked with God in intimate fellowship, and had no need to worry about any of their provisions. They could do anything they wanted within the garden, that is except for one thing, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, ESV). Everything is going great, then along comes the serpent…full of lies, “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5, ESV). Adam and Eve believed the lie that they could be like God, that he alone was not good enough. The world has never been the same since. This is the subject of Psalm 2, to which we now turn our attention.

Psalm 2 begins with a rhetorical question, “why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” The question answers itself in part by calling the rage of the nations and plot of the people a vain endeavor. The remainder of the psalm shows exactly why these efforts are vain in three way (1) the people have underestimated their plans, (2) the Lord’s response, (3) the Lord’s charge to the people.

The people and nations referred to in verse one have grossly underestimated their plans. They do not fully understand what they have gotten themselves into. The rage of the nations and the plot of the people is the same as the ancient serpent from the garden, namely an insurrection. The peoples of the earth are plotting an insurrection against the Lord and his anointed. In Hebrew this word is mashiach, messiah. In the Greek Old Testament this word is christos, Christ. In Israel, the Lord had established a kingly line through David his anointed and promised that his line would never end. This promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So when the peoples of the earth plot against the Lord’s anointed, they are plotting against Jesus, God himself. We are no different. Every day we are tempted to usurp God’s authority in our lives and falsely believe that we have a better plan than God does. There is a rebellious spirit in all of us. We want to be the god of our own lives. Yet, this is a vain endeavor.

The vain plots of the people against the Lord provokes an expected response, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (v. 4). The Lord knows that the efforts of the people are futile. For he has set a king in Zion, to rule over and “make the nations your heritage” (v. 9). This king is the same person as the anointed in verse two, the one who sits on the throne of David, namely Jesus Christ. His rule will have no end and he will establish his kingdom “with justice and with righteous from this time forth and forever more” (Isaiah 9:7, ESV). For this reason it is futile to attempt to thwart the authority of God. Proverbs reminds us, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (19:21, ESV). After all that Job had gone through he confesses, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, ESV). No one can stand in the place of God, and no one can stand in the presence of God and live (see Exodus 33:20). God does as he pleases. His response to the peoples plots is to “speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury” for this is what they deserve (Psalm 2:5). Yet the Lord in his mercy has made a way to escape the wrath he will pour out on those who plot against him.

In the last part of Psalm 2, the Lord calls the people and the nations to be wise and lay down their weapons and surrender to him. Elsewhere in the psalms this same call is extended to the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). His call is to “kiss the Son”, which is to confess that he alone is worthy and is the rightful king. Instead of building their own futile kingdoms the Lord wants the peoples to serve in his kingdom and take refuge in him. This call extends to us as well. Stop striving to be god in our own lives, building our own futile kingdom and surrender to the Lord. God has extended his grace to shield us from his wrath because the Son stood in our place and absorbed the wrath for us. May the Lord grant us the grace and mercy to lay down our futile plans and serve him as our rightful king. For in his kingdom we are saved from the wrath to come. This psalm leaves us to answer the question, which kingdom am I serving: mine or God’s?

To view more articles in this series, please check out the Ancient Songs page.


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