Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill in Zion.
The text speaks of terrible things for the children of God. David describes for us the seething enmity that prompts the wicked to persecute the church. There are the raging heathen, people imagining vain things, kings and rulers confederating and counseling together against the children of God. All of which produces the wicked threat, “let us break their bands asunder, and cast their yoke from us.” Our human reaction to all of this is retreat—how can we escape so terrible a threat?
But there is more to this Psalm that must not be separated. We must look heavenward and formulate a correct judgment of the earthly scene. There we find that God is laughing. No, not at His people, but at the heathen. This laughter turns to derision and holy wrath, for suddenly the heavens begin to tremble as the voice of the Lord sounds forth: “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” When this cry comes forth from the throne of God, the wicked begin to tremble as the hot breath of divine wrath falls upon them. This divine judgment brings assurance to the faithful church that is yet in the midst of the enemy that she shall certainly be victorious.
These words are not very popular today. We sing, “Why do the nations rage,” yet if one proclaims the truth concerning these words, they are very offensive to the natural man and bring untold enmity and bitterness. The world would have us believe that there is a universal love of God to all men and that there is a brotherhood of all men. Piously, all men lift their heads heavenward and say, “Yes, somewhere there is a god who loves all men. So great is his love that he sent Jesus into the world to herald a message of kindness and brotherhood. The angels sang ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” This, according to them, shows that God loves all men and sent Christ on behalf of them. Therefore, we must practice this love to one another. We must help the poor and deprived, spread cheer to the underprivileged, advocate peace among the nations, and help Christ along by carrying the banner of human kindness. Wicked men put Christ to death, but we must resurrect this Christ by carrying on the program that He intended to accomplish but failed because men were so cruel that they nailed Him to the cross.
This, of course, is all contradicted by this text. God does not love all men and did not send Christ into the world with a view to the salvation of all men. God’s love is a holy love that is jealous in its very nature. The words of verse 6 are spoken in wrath against all the wicked who will try to overthrow the Christ of the Scriptures. God will not allow the wicked to rest complacently in their evil design, not even when these wicked creep within the church. He always sounds forth the terrible testimony of His divine derision, namely, that He is the God of consuming wrath who must judge the wicked in His sore displeasure.
This is a spiritual battle that must be viewed from the viewpoint of God’s sovereignty. Negatively, we must see that God did not will to establish a perfect universal kingdom of peace in Adam, which was spoiled by the devil and the consequent fall of man into sin. Nor is God executing a plan to make the best of things, sending Christ in order to save as many of the human race as He can. If true, then the opposition forces of sin and darkness are sovereign in their own sphere and outside of the direct control of God. But this is a blatant denial of God’s sovereignty. The battle of faith is not dualistic, made up of two forces that vie for position as if the strongest will win.
Positively, we must see that these evil forces exist only because God sovereignly willed it and because He gives them strength to continue in this world. God is the source of all power, also the power by which the enemies rage; only that power is given to them that they may be the unwilling servants of the sovereign God. Everything serves the purpose of God. God wills to save His church from the spiritual powers of darkness through Jesus Christ and to bring all the workers of iniquity to destruction. In this way God’s justice and mercy are eternally manifested to His own glory. All this must be considered from the viewpoint God’s sovereignty.
Looking from man’s point of view, we see that under the influence of the devil he continues to exercise his natural abilities in proud rebellion against God. Fallen man is able to think, dream, imagine, and work feverishly at his own endeavors. Since he is under direction of the devil, all this ability is directed against God and His Christ. Consequently, the heathen rage and imagine a vain thing.
As a result, they take counsel against Jehovah, and against His anointed Christ and His people. The heathen are determined to destroy them. They try to do away with the true gospel of salvation, thus fabricating a Christ after their own imagination. They try to replace His kingdom with the kingdom of man. They deny the atonement of Christ and replace it with a Jesus who is a good example of human brotherhood. They try to obliterate the heavenly kingdom by holding forth an earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity. All of this because natural man hates God. All unbelievers reject God and Christ and His love as revealed in the Scriptures. They seek to make God a servant of their endeavors. Thus, they try to destroy all opposition.
This is evident from all of history. At the dawn of history the wicked tried to destroy the righteous by killing Abel. Pharaoh tried to reduce Israel to bloody subjection. David, a type of Christ, was driven from Jerusalem, in response to which he writes this Psalm. At the center of history this raging reached a climactic point. In the fullness of time God sent His only begotten Son, born of a woman, under the law. On that night in Bethlehem His work of salvation began. Immediately, the wicked began to rage and take counsel in that Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. Later, we see this same bitterness in the breasts of those at Nazareth. This raging finally erupted into the volcano of hatred with the shout, “Let Him be crucified.”
This same raging is evident today. The heathen outside and those within the nominally Christian church try to silence the faithful church that proclaims salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. This explains the spiritual turbulence of today. Everyone wants freedom, that is, from God’s law, including but not limited to the law of the Sabbath and of morality. And if they are not allowed their “freedom,” mthey persecute the church.
But all of this is sovereignly directed. First, we see that God laughs at the wicked, holds them in derision. This is not laughter of pleasure, but is God’s holy derision against their feeble plot to destroy His anointed. God derides the wicked because they are so proud as to imagine that they can actually destroy the witness of the anointed of Christ as they live in the world. Proud man will not recognize that the very breath in his nostrils is given him by the Jehovah whom he hates. Nor will he recognize that Jehovah overrules all things so that even that opposition is not contrary to His purpose, but serves it. Man imagines vainly that he can overthrow God and His Christ, but Jehovah laughs and replies, “Impossible, I am Jehovah and my anointed have I set upon my holy hill of Zion.” All serve God’s good purpose for Christ and His church.
This too is evident from history. Parallel with the raging of the devil one finds the victory of the church because of God’s sovereign direction. In the time of Enoch and Noah the flood came and destroyed all the wicked. Haman plotted to kill the Jews, but God placed Esther in the court of the king. The decree of the wicked Caesar was used by God to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Herod plotted the death of Christ, but God answered triumphantly, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” The Jews plotted to kill Christ secretly, but God so determined all things that even by means of the raging of Satan at the cross He stirred the Jews to cry out, “His blood be upon us and our children;” thus His will was being done. The Romans through Pilate washed their hands of the whole affair choosing to be friends with Caesar rather than with God. All the people said, “Let Him be crucified.”
Was it a shame that Christ died? No! God directed all things so that that raging crowd served His purpose in nailing Christ to the cross so that atonement was made for the sins of those whom the Father had given Him. God’s answer to the cross can be seen in the words of Christ, “It is finished; Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The empty tomb is God’s final answer, for He drew up Christ into heaven and set Him at His own right hand, crowning Him with all power, honor, and glory forever.
And so we have joy. It is not joy in a general world peace brought about by the heathen who rage against the Anointed of God and proudly claim to be the Christ, but are the antichrist. We must take note, for they are raging now. By craft and scheming the wicked world pretends to have become Christian and claims that all the religions of the world are the same, so that we should have one church in one world empire. The church that preaches the atoning blood of Christ and practices her Christianity will have no place in the kingdom of the antichrist. Jesus said, “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” ().
Positively, our joy is that God is sovereign. He is the mighty One who has already set His King on Zion’s hill. Christ is Lord of all. Let those who walk in darkness, who vainly imagine that the world shall become truly Christianized, who strive day and night for this kingdom of man, hear the Word of God, as He breathes in his wrath, “I have set my King upon My holy hill.”
All this means that the wicked shall fail; they shall be destroyed forever by the rod of iron. To them Jehovah will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
For the church it means that she will surely be saved. Everyone whom God freely willed to be included in the counsel of divine election, and for whom Christ died, and who reveal themselves as anointed by Christ, will surely be saved. Even the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. They shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, for all things work together for good to them that love God.